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The Taiwanese island chain of Matsu is closer to the Chinese mainland than to Taipei. Now, some say they are on the frontlines of China's newest tactic: "gray zone" or hybrid warfare, aimed at wearing down or provoking the enemy without firing a single shot.   © Reuters
The Big Story

Line in the sand: Chinese dredgers are stealing Taiwan, bit by bit

Officials split on whether 'gray zone' intimidation or rogue vessels

LOUISE WATT, Contributing writer | Taiwan

MATSU, Taiwan -- In the darkness, Chinese ships edge closer to Taiwan's Matsu Islands, at times entering Taiwan-controlled waters. They are not military vessels, but huge sand dredgers that spend hours pumping up tons of sand from the ocean floor. There are so many lit boats they resemble traffic on a highway, and their loud mechanical rumblings echo across the otherwise quiet islands.

Dozens -- and at their peak, hundreds -- of these 2,000-ton vessels have been making their presence felt in the waters off Matsu. The small islands are part of Taiwan, but much closer to the Chinese mainland than Taipei. Residents say the Chinese sand dredgers have disturbed them, spoiled their coasts, shrunk their beaches and harmed marine life.

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