Diplomatic chivalry lost at seaThe Korean public has been enraged by the Chinese government’s insolence and lack of propriety after a Coast Guard sailor was killed and others injured by Chinese illegally fishing Korean waters. Beijing has not expressed any sign of regret about the incident, which occurred when a crackdown on illegal Chinese fishermen ended tragically when the Chinese captain of a trawler stabbed two SWAT team members who were attempting to seize the boat. Only after the Korean media and public created an uproar over the matter did Beijing issue a statement describing it as an unfortunate incident.
As soon as the news of the calamity broke, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry said the government has educated and warned its fishermen against illegally trawling. He then demanded Seoul respect the full legal and human rights of the detained Chinese. But if it had any sense of decency, Beijing should have apologized for what transpired and offered its condolences to the victims’ families.
In a previous episode, when three Chinese trawlers were caught illegally fishing in Korea’s exclusive economic zone off the nation’s southwestern coast on Oct. 23, the Chinese foreign ministry demanded Seoul enforce the law in a “civilized” way. Given China’s recent behavior, Beijing’s implication that moves by a sovereign state to enforce its laws may somehow constitute an “uncivilized” act are even more appalling and audacious. Even in a world where borders are becoming increasingly thin, nations must uphold certain levels of decency and respect for one another.
Beijing must realize that such a show of insolence would trigger anti-Chinese sentiment in the region. China’s conflict with its neighbors has been increasing recently in tandem with its growing economic and military power. Furthermore, it was disappointing to see Beijing side with Pyongyang following the latter’s attacks on a South Korean naval ship and Yeonpyeong Island in March and November of last year, respectively. China has also been aggravating tensions with nations in Southeast Asia due to its territorial claims over the South China Sea. If China continues down this path, it will only generate resentment from its neighbors and invite more interference from the U.S.
If China wants to play big brother in the region, it must demonstrate diplomatic chivalry. If it wants to gain the admiration of others, it should learn to be humble and prudent. If it sincerely wants to become a superpower, China should learn to act like one first.