Starting from Dec 13rd, South Koreans groups have been protesting in front of China embassy for 3 consecutive days because of the death of a coast guard resulted by Chinese fisherman. While some media manipulates the incident as “rightful defense” of the accused fisherman and depicts South Koreans as narrow-minded and over-reacting ethnicity, the majority of mainstream media in China remain cool-headed and manages to present the in-and-out of the whole incident. Here is a good example from Netease who approaches the problem in the following 3 aspects:
1. Chinese fishing boats trespass into Korean water way too often.
Chinese trespassing illegal fishing record from 2008 – 2011:
|# of trespassing boats||# of arrested people||￥ of fine
The South Korea side of the Northern Limit Line(NLL) in the Yellow Sea is known for its fish abundance, especially productive of portunid, flatfish and shellfish. The area used to be the traditional fishing area for fishermen from China, South Korea and Japan. Prior to 2000, Chinese fishermen didn’t go to the area in groups, nor was there conflicts between traditional fishing Chinese fishermen and their South Korean counterparts as well as the officials.
Since the China-South Korea Fishing Agreement in 2001, fishermen of the the two countries are forbidden from trespassing into the other country’s water to fish, but Chinese fishermen kept breaking the rules. The sudden surge of heading to South Korea for fishing began around 2000, and the first intensified conflict took place on Oct 24th, 2003 when local South Korean fishermen association, threatened by Chinese excessive fishing activities in front of their water, organized over 60 fishing boats chasing after Chinese boats, which alerted the South Korean navy into dispatching 5 patrol boats. The raging chase didn’t stop until the patrol boats opened warning fire.
According to South Korea police department, there are 2196 Chinese fishing boats conducting illegal fishing within South Korea water from 2004 to 2008, during which a total number of 20896 Chinese fishermen were arrested.
2. Unstoppable trespassing fishing
According to Taiwan Central Daily, illegal fishing, once caught, would subject to a fine of up to 30 –50 million Korean dollar, which could reduce the fishermen’s family into ruin. Therefore, illegal fishermen tend to put up strong resistance against South Korean coast guards. It is said that throwing stones at approaching coast guards is the norm for resistance, sometimes even axe, iron pipe, sickle etc armed resistances were possible.
To fight against the coastal force, Chinese fishermen learned to operate in groups varying from 4 boats to over 10 boats tied up to each other. This kind of alliance has once changed the cat and mouse game: On Sept 23rd 2008, 4 marine policemen from Mokpo marine police warship No.3003 were held custody by Chinese fishermen when examining illegal fishing boats. The 4 policemen were assaulted and released in the form of hostage exchange. Two days later, a marine police dropped to the sea and drown when another Chinese fishing boat was being forced examined by South Korean marine police. These two incidents caused huge stir in South Korea.
In the past 5 years, weapons like rubber bullet, tear gas can hardly fend off the trespassing fishing boats. South Korean press once criticized its marine force as “using weak means” for playing strictly by the marine law enforcement rules. South Korean marine police weren’t allow to use gun until 2009 when violent resistance got out of control.
3. The protest of South Korean is not unreasonable
Judging from the cases of the past few years, South Korea is not trying to pick any fights by constantly detaining Chinese fishing boats, it is illegal fishing of the Chinese at the first place, they are just doing their job. Now that Chinese fishermen adopted violent resistance and resulted in the death of a coast guard on duty, lawful interrogation and sentence are only justice.
As for the days of protest by angry South Koreans, it doesn’t mean they are politicalizing a civil dispute. Since the coast guard was killed when exercising his rightful duty, the case can not longer be categorized as simple civil dispute.
On the other hand, in South Korea protesting is only a normal expression of citizen emotion. It is said that there are an average of 11,000 protests annually in South Korea, 85 times of which involved large scale of riot squads. They protest against Japan, against the US, against their new domestic policy, everything. Thus we shouldn’t over-decipher this one, it just happens to be China.
South Korean people do not necessarily know about the difficult living condition of Chinese fishermen, even if they do, they are not obligated to show sympathy. Suppose it is a South Korean boat trespassing into China water and stealing fish stocks from us, and by the way stab our coast guard to death, will us Chinese people feel more of the sympathy towards the difficult life of Korean fishermen than the anger towards their crime?