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Seoul to avoid `emotional dispute` over fishing boat row

Seoul to avoid `emotional dispute` over fishing boat row

Posted December. 25, 2010 11:26,   


South Korea and China agreed Friday to promptly resolve their row over the sinking of a Chinese fishing boat in the Yellow Sea.

This reflects Seoul and Beijing`s intent to prevent the matter from escalating at a time when bilateral ties have been aggravated in the wake of North Korea`s provocations, according to experts.

The fishing boat fiasco erupted after the Chinese government wanted to hold South Korea responsible for the incident. Under the shared recognition that a confrontation will benefit neither country, however, both sides found middle ground in the form of repatriating the Chinese fishermen arrested by South Korea to China as soon as possible.

With the incident showing signs of evolving into an emotional conflict between the two countries with media outlets and netizens on both sides joining the dispute, Seoul and Beijing have reached a consensus that they should prevent an escalation.

After the incident, Beijing blasted Seoul and demanded compensation Tuesday. South Korea believes China showed a strong stance out of dissatisfaction over Seoul`s rejection of a suggestion by the Chinese chief negotiator of the six-party talks to hold an emergency meeting after the North’s Nov. 23 attack on Yeonpyeong Island.

Beijing was apparently also angry over Seoul holding another firing drill on Yeonpyeong despite China’s strong opposition. The South Korean government went ahead with the self-defense exercise since it was within the country`s sovereign rights.

Seoul, however, judged that it needs to placate Beijing over the sinking of the Chinese fishing boat, experts said, because the South needs Chinese cooperation in the North`s denuclearization.

In addition, South Korea will return the arrested Chinese fishermen since they did not belong to ships that illegally fished in South Korean waters. The ship that the crewmen were on gained permission to fish in a South Korean exclusive economic zone but prevented the South Korean Coast Guard from catching Chinese fishing boats that conducted illegal fishing.

The ship’s captain responsible for the obstruction also died.

China has apparently concluded that it has nothing to gain from escalation of the matter since the Chinese fishing boats were confirmed to have fished illegaly in South Korean waters. The captured Chinese crewmen also admitted to ramming their ship into the South Korean patrol boat.

In Seoul, Sungshin Women’s University professor Kim Heung-kyu said, “China’s relations with Japan have worsened due to the dispute over the Senkaku Islands of Japan. China has grown internationally isolated due to its excessive defense of North Korea, which launched an artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island. So the Chinese government seems to believe that aggravated relations with South Korea will be a burden.”

In South Korea, however, the government is under fire for hastily resolving the row without undergoing standard procedures. The fear is that repatriation of the Chinese fishermen without punishment will encourage more illegal fishing by Chinese fishing.

On this, a government official in Seoul said talks with China will continue to prevent illegal fishing.