China-S. Korea tensions after fatal stabbing of S. Korean coast guard officer

Updated On: Dec 14, 2011

Angry South Koreans have slammed Chinese fishermen as “pirates”, while President Lee Myung-bak vowed to spend more on policing the country’s waters. Tensions have risen after a Chinese fishing boat captain allegedly stabbed a coast guard officer to death during the seizure of his vessel. The Chinese ship was reportedly fishing illegally in South Korea's exclusive economic zone.

Reactions to the Incident

On Monday, South Korea's foreign ministry summoned the Chinese ambassador in protest over the incident. Tuesday afternoon saw protests outside the Chinese embassy in Seoul.

On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin expressed regret for the officer’s death. But he glossed over Seoul’s accusations that the captain fatally stabbed the South Korean officer. Asked at a daily media briefing whether China would compensate the dead officer’s family, Liu said the Chinese government is working with South Korea “to investigate and verify the situation.” He said China is ready “to settle relevant issues.”

Many in South Korea are dissatisfied with the Chinese response. The JoongAng Ilbo daily newspaper called the fishermen “pirates” in a front-page headline, and the Chosun Ilbo newspaper said in an editorial that the coast guard should have more ships at its disposal and be more forceful in the fight against armed Chinese fishermen.

Meanwhile, President Lee told a Cabinet meeting that South Korea will get tough on illegal Chinese fishermen. An official told the media that Lee’s possible visit to China next month may also be reconsidered if the case is not resolved.

Report: South Korea vows to get tough on illegal Chinese fishermen after coast guard officer’s death [Washington Post, 14 Dec 2011]

Report: China Regrets Killing of Coast Guard  [Chosun Ilbo, 14 Dec 2011]

Protests in Seoul

About 300 protesters gathered at the Chinese Embassy in central Seoul yesterday. About 30 attempted to enter the embassy but were stopped by police. One right-wing demonstrator rammed his SUV three times into a police bus guarding the building.

"I wanted to ram into a gate of the embassy at least, as a way of protest," the man said, as he was arrested.

Other protesters defaced a Chinese flag.

Stabbing at Sea

The South Korean coast guard officer, surnamed Lee, was killed on Monday when his team seized a 66-ton Chinese vessel which was allegedly fishing illegally in South Korea's exclusive economic zone.

Reports say the captain of the Chinese ship stabbed the 41-year-old corporal to death with two knives during the raid. The captain also seriously wounded another coast guard officer.

South Korean authorities are seeking a warrant to detain the captain further, on charges of murder and illegal intrusion of the country's exclusive economic zone. They are seeking similar arrest warrants for the ship's eight remaining sailors on accusations of obstructing government affairs.

According to reports, the Chinese crew have already admitted to illegal fishing after an overnight interrogation, though the captain has denied killing the coast guard officer.

South Korean officers also seized another Chinese fishing vessel carrying 10 sailors, on suspicion of collaborating with the first ship. The second vessel may have rammed the first boat to obstruct the coast guard raid.

Illegal Fishing

Chinese fishing ships frequently cross over illegally to South Korea's Yellow Sea. The South Korean coast guard has captured or sent back a total of 472 Chinese ships so far this year, up from 370 last year.

The coast guard usually releases the ships after a fine is paid, though violence occasionally occurs.

Chinese fishing fleets have been going farther afield to feed growing domestic demand for seafood. With some 300,000 fishing vessels and 8 million fishermen, the Chinese fishing industry is by far the world’s largest, producing an annual catch in excess of 17 million tons. But catches have decreased in waters close to China’s shores, forcing the fleet to venture farther.

In 2008, one South Korean coast guard officer was killed and six others injured in a fight with Chinese fishermen in South Korean waters.

Report: S. Korea seeks arrest warrant for Chinese captain on murder charge [Yonhap, 13 Dec 2011]

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