Seoul, Beijing quibble on fishing

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Seoul, Beijing quibble on fishing

Beijing and Seoul continue to collide over the issue of fishing vessels illegally operating in Korean waters as China refused to take responsibility for the sinking of a Korean Coast Guard speedboat by two Chinese boats.

In response to the Korean government summoning of the top Chinese envoy to Seoul Monday to lodge a formal protest, Geng Shuang, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said in a press briefing Wednesday that “the allegation by the ROK [Republic of Korea] side cannot be justified.”

The Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned Chinese Ambassador to Korea Qiu Guohong Tuesday to formally protest the sinking of the Korean Coast Guard vessel last week and demanded efforts to prevent the recurrence of such an incident. It was the second time the ministry summoned an envoy from the Chinese Embassy in Seoul in four days, highlighting the gravity of the situation, which it said “directly and systematically” challenged a Korean law enforcement agency.

The Coast Guard was inspecting some 40 Chinese vessels for illegally fishing in waters southwest of Socheong Island in Incheon on Oct. 7 when a 100-ton Chinese fishing boat, and then a second one of similar size, rammed a 4.5-ton Korean Coast Guard speedboat. This was seen as a deliberate attempt to sink the vessel.

After an inter-agency meeting, Korea’s Ministry of Public Safety and Security announced plans Tuesday to further crack down on and seize illegal fishing vessels, allowing the use of martial force if necessary, including live firearms and mobilization of patrol vessels to ram ships that attempt to flee or use violence.

In the briefing in Beijing Wednesday, Geng defended the Chinese vessels and described the coordinates where the Chinese fishing vessels rammed the coast guard vessel as N 37°23’06” and E 123°58’56,” or “within the waters where existing fishing activities shall be maintained as prescribed in the fishery agreement” between the two countries. He claimed, “There is no term in the agreement that can justify law enforcement activities by the ROK coast guard in these waters.”

Geng claimed that the Korean government’s crackdown on illegal fishing “will only make it worse and cause disputes if [Korea] keeps tightening sanctions or even resorts to the use of force as it declares.”

Geng urged Seoul to “discipline its law enforcement staff and regulate their law enforcement activities so as to avoid the abuse of law enforcement power and violent behavior or approaches that may hurt or endanger Chinese personnel.”

“It is inevitable that China and the ROK may encounter some disputes or problems in the course of advancing fishery cooperation,” Geng said, emphasizing that the two sides need to enhance communication and “take a long-term and objective view to properly treat and solve fishery problems.”

The Korean Foreign Ministry released a statement hours later Wednesday evening that shot down Beijing’s claim that the Chinese fishing vessels were permitted to operate in the coordinates, saying they had been in its sovereign waters within its exclusive economic zone.

“This case happened as our Coast Guard cracked down on illegal Chinese fishing vessels in our waters at N 37°28’33” and E 124°2’3” and pursued them, while the Coast Guard speedboat was sunk at N 37°23’06” and E 123°58’56,” outside of our waters,” said the ministry.

It said the Coast Guard had the right to pursuit based on stipulations of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which both countries are party to. The ministry added, “Our measures to respond to Chinese illegal fishing activities and challenge of governmental authority are just and based on well-established international law and our domestic law.”

The issue is being hotly discussed among lawmakers during the parliamentary audit of the government, as the coast guard continued to seize Chinese illegal fishing vessels over the past several days, in the middle of crab season.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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