The 16 Chinese fishermen reportedly kidnapped by armed North Koreans on May 5 are yet to be released, the owner of the hijacked fishing boat said Sunday. Analysts said the Chinese government should take a tougher stance toward Pyongyang to firmly ensure the safety of its citizens.
Meanwhile, the Chinese embassy in North Korea is working on the detention issue, asking Pyongyang to ensure the safety and legitimate rights and interests of the fishermen, said a Chinese counselor to the North Korea on Sunday.
Counselor Jiang Yaxian said a private fishing boat from Dalian in Northeast China's Liaoning Province, known as Liaoning Generic Fishing No. 25222, was seized by the North Korean side, and Yu Xuejun, the ship owner, called the embassy for help on May 10, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
Upon receiving the call, the Chinese embassy promptly made representations to the Bureau of Consular Affairs of the North Korea Foreign Ministry, asking it to release the boat and the fishermen as soon as possible, said Jiang.
The embassy urged North Korea to fully ensure the Chinese crew's personal and property safety as well as their legitimate rights and interests, and has notified the ship owner of the results of the representations and has given him the contact phone numbers concerned, he said.
Yu told the Global Times Sunday that he hoped that all the crew members could return safely with the help of authorities no matter how many losses he suffered.
Yu said he had received eight calls from the kidnappers, who demanded 600,000 yuan ($97,740) as a ransom before Sunday noon. He stressed that the vessel was definitely trawling in Chinese waters when the incident occurred.
"The ship was equipped with GPS and Beidou positioning systems to make sure our fishermen know their accurate location every second," said Yu, adding that the Liaoning fishery authority can also monitor all fishing activities and sends a warning as soon as any boat nears North Korean waters.
The kidnappers, highly likely from the North Korean army, expertly removed the pair of positioning systems and confiscated all communication devices after boarding the boat, said Yu.
Though the deadline for a ransom has passed, Yu said he has received no more calls from North Korean side.
"I can't afford the ransom as required. What worries me most is the personal safety of the 16 crew members," said Yu. He said the food on the boat, which could satisfy their needs for 20 days, was expected to run out very soon. Moreover, he worried that the fishermen's psychological state may deteriorate, which may trigger such tragedies as occurred between the Philippines and Taiwanese fishermen lately.
Such kidnappings have frequently occurred. Last May, a total of 29 fishermen from Liaoning were also forcibly taken away by unidentified North Koreans while trawling, and were later released after the Chinese government's meditation.
Cui Zhiying, director of the Korean Peninsula Research Center at the Shanghai-based Tongji University, told the Global Times that as the relations between China and North Korea are gradually changing from traditional ideological allies to normal bilateral relations, these kinds of reports are being disclosed more frequently than before.
Jin Qiangyi, director of the Asian Studies Center at Yanbian University, told the Global Times Sunday that China has been inclined to deal with such disputes in a low-key manner, which has been taken advantage of by North Korea to infringe upon Chinese fishermen's interests.
"It's also possible that the nuclear state is taking revenge on China after the UN imposed a series of sanctions on it following its third nuclear test," said Jin, stressing that the Chinese government should hold firm in safeguarding the safety of its citizens, otherwise, such incidents will reoccur in the future.
"We will continue efforts to ensure that the issue will be properly addressed at an early date," Jiang added.
Liu Linlin contributed to this story