Taiwan says it is investigating whether a man from mainland China made it across the highly militarized Taiwan Strait in a small rubber dinghy.
The 33-year-old Chinese man told police he had crossed the 160 km stretch in search of “freedom and democracy”.
Patrolled by hundreds of ships, the Taiwan Strait is one of the most heavily guarded waterways in the world.
Taiwanese authorities are investigating whether security “loopholes” made the trip possible.
The man, identified only by his last name Zhou, was spotted near the port of Taichung on Friday evening after traveling from Quanzhou in Fujian province on China’s southeast coast, The Washington Post reported.
Mr. Zhou had made the trip in a 2.6 meter by 1.5 meter (8.8 feet by 5 feet) rubber dinghy that he had purchased on the internet and fitted with an outboard motor, according to the Washington Post. It was carrying 90 liters of fuel and hardly any other effects.
Police said he told them he wanted to move to Taiwan to seek political refuge.
Mr. Zhou is currently being held in a detention center and subjected to a 14-day quarantine. He could face up to three years in prison and a fine of up to 90,000 New Taiwan dollars (£ 2,315; $ 3,220).
The 160 km long Taiwan Strait is one of the most closely guarded waterbands in the world, patrolled by Chinese and Taiwanese Navy and Coast Guard vessels.
While in the past there have been defections between the two sides – and some Chinese nationals have flown to Taiwan to seek refuge – travel across the strait is rare.
Taiwanese Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said “loopholes” in the way the Taiwan Strait is monitored are being investigated due to the man’s alleged trip, the man reported. ‘AFP.
“We will contact the coast guard, we will inform each other if there is a situation, to find out the reasons and make improvements,” Chiu told reporters.
But a senior Taiwanese navy officer cast doubt on Mr. Zhou’s story.
Chiang Cheng-kuo, Taiwan Navy Chief of Staff, said Zhou was not carrying enough fuel to make the trip. But he said the dinghy may have traveled undetected for most of the trip because it would not have been detected by ground or navy on-board radar.
The Coast Guard’s radar covers 12 nautical miles offshore, the Washington Post reported.
“There is no blind spot, but we do not rule out the possibility that [Zhou] has been hidden by freighters and other larger ships, ”Taiwan Coast Guard Fourth District Patrol Command Director Hong Yishun told the Hong Yishun newspaper.
Tensions between Taiwan and China have intensified in recent months, as Beijing has stepped up air and naval exercises around the island.
China regards democratic Taiwan as a separatist province, but Taiwan regards itself as a sovereign state.
Mr. Zhou is not the first to flee China for Taiwan in the name of freedom.
Last August, 12 Hong Kong protesters were arrested at sea as they tried to escape to Taiwan by speedboat.
The Washington Post reports that hundreds of Hong Kong people have sought refuge on the island, most arriving legally but some using smugglers to get there by boat.