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China abruptly shifts stance on fishing boat fiasco

Posted December. 24, 2010 11:14,   


China changed its stance Friday on the sinking of a Chinese fishing boat, saying Beijing is talking to South Korea about the incident.

The Chinese fishing vessel that violated South Korean waters in the Yellow Sea by illegally fishing capsized after ramming into a South Korean patrol ship Saturday last week. After the incident, Beijing blasted Seoul and demanded compensation Tuesday.

○ About-face in a day

On Thursday, however, Chinese Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman Jiang Yu said, “We are communicating with South Korea,” adding, “We have conveyed our regret to South Korea several times and also expressed our willingness to resolve the issue through negotiations.”

She had told reporters Tuesday, “Causing human casualties by ramming into a fishing vessel is not allowed,” adding that a South Korean patrol ship rammed into the Chinese vessel. The claim contradicted investigation results conducted by the Korea Coast Guard.

Jiang also denied that the capsized vessel entered a South Korean exclusive economic zone to fish illegally. “Under a bilateral fisheries agreement, fishing vessels of both countries can enter waters where the incident happened. The two countries are also allowed to apply laws only to vessels of each country,” she said.

China’s about-face five days after the incident is apparently based on its judgment that the latest mishap is different from what happened in September in waters near the Senkaku Islands of Japan, or Diaoyutai in China.

At the time, a Chinese fishing boat rammed into a Japanese patrol ship. Japan arrested the vessel’s captain but released him due to pressure from Beijing.

In the latest sinking, one Chinese crewman drowned and another went missing but the incident happened because of illegal fishing in South Korean waters by Chinese boats. In addition, the boats` crew also resisted arrest by wielding deadly weapons, injuring four Korean maritime officers.

Furthermore, the Korea Coast Guard said casualties occurred since the capsized Chinese vessel intentionally slammed into the Korean patrol ship to help other Chinese boats escape.

○ Belated realization of guilt

The Chinese government has made an about-face since it confirmed the Chinese fishermen did fish illegally through video footage of the incident and statements of three Chinese crewmen questioned by South Korea after rescuing them, according to experts.

Others say China’s abrupt shift is related to global criticism of the country for its “vigorous diplomatic offensive” in the wake of the September incident. To force the release of the Chinese captain at the time, China stopped exports of rare materials to Japan.

The latest incident is different from that of September, which happened in disputed waters, so if China simply pursues its interest of protecting its fishermen, it will give the impression of exercising its physical strength against its neighbors.

The South Korean government has suggested a joint investigation, but China has yet to respond. This is because Beijing fears not being able to explain its previous strong stance shortly after the incident if the joint probe confirms that the Chinese boats fished illegally, according to experts.

Considering the situation, experts say China is negotiating with South Korea to smoothly resolve the matter while showing its people that Beijing is doing its best to protect them.