The 63-ton Chinese fishing boat sank near a South Korean southwestern port city after slamming into the country’s 3,000-ton coastguard vessel over the weekend, leaving the captain of the ship dead and another missing.
South Korea claims its coastguard had the right to chase the boat which had been illegally operating in its exclusive economic zone. But China is demanding compensation, claiming Seoul had no right to enforce law in the gray zone, just outside the EEZ, where the two ships clashed.
While denying responsibility, the Seoul government said it is willing to conduct a joint investigation with China, apparently striving to prevent the potential diplomatic row from spreading.
“We express condolences for the dead and the missing Chinese crew, but believe the incident happened while our side was rightfully enforcing the law,” the Foreign Ministry here said in a statement. “We do not wish to turn this case into a diplomatic issue and will handle it by closely cooperating with the Chinese government.”
In a regular news briefing Tuesday, China’s foreign ministry blamed South Korea for the deadly incident, demanding the country punish related officials.
“We express great concern over the incident and request South Korea to make an all-out effort to search for the missing crewmember,” China’s ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said, also calling on Seoul to “fully compensate for the loss of property.”
Dismissing speculations that the Chinese boat had been sent by the government to monitor rising tension on the Korean Peninsula, Jiang said the incident had “no relation” to the current regional tensions.
Tensions have been running high on the divided Korean Peninsula after North Korea fired a barrage of artillery on a civilian-inhabited South Korean island last month, killing four people.
Snubbing growing calls by the international community to play a greater role in reining in North Korea’s belligerence, Beijing has refused to condemn Pyongyang’s provocation, causing diplomatic tensions with Seoul.
Detecting the Chinese fishing boat within the South Korean EEZ, the coastguard here ordered the ship to stop around 12:40 p.m. on Dec. 18. Ignoring the request, the boat slammed into the South Korean vessel about 10 minutes later, while trying to avoid being caught, according to Seoul’s Foreign Ministry.
“Our vessel was hardly moving and it is illegal to ignore any order to halt the ship within the EEZ,” a ministry official said while briefing the media.
According to a video clip released by the South Korean coastguard, the Chinese crew angrily swung metal bars during the clash, injuring South Korean officers.
A total of 10 Chinese fishermen fell into the sea and eight of them have been rescued.
“The Chinese government has not released an official statement demanding compensation,” the Seoul official said, adding China is unlikely to make an official demand as South Korea has radar images and video clips “clearly showing” which side was to blame.
Illegal Chinese fishing boats are commonly seen in the South Korean waters with more than 330 such ships being caught last year alone.
Beijing also suffered an intense diplomatic row with Tokyo in September, when its fishing boat and Japanese coastguard vessel collided near the islands in the East China Sea called Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.
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