North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (right) visiting Pyongyang Myohyangsan Children’s Camp, situated at the foot of Mt. Myohyang in North Pyongan Province Sunday. Meanwhile, South Korea on Monday predicted further missile tests by North Korea which fired four short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan at the weekend, drawing criticism from Seoul and UN chief Ban Ki-moon (see story on page 2). Photo: AFP
North Korea's foreign ministry has reported the seizure of a Chinese fishing boat and 16 Chinese fishermen by armed North Koreans to the country's high-level officials, as an ultimatum for a ransom expired on Monday afternoon.
The incident has fueled outrage in China, as netizens have vented their fury toward North Korea, as traditionally close ties between the nations have been pushed toward greater tension.
The anger has reached PLA General Luo Yuan, who said on Weibo that "North Korea should stop acting like a bully blackmailing others" before demanding that North Korea release the vessel or "pay for what it has done."
Yu Xuejun, owner of the Liaoning Generic Fishing No. 25222 from Dalian, Northeast China's Liaoning Province, told the Global Times on Monday that North Korean kidnappers called him again on Sunday night and kept attempting to extort 600,000 yuan ($97,740) as a "penalty."
It was the ninth time Yu has received similar calls, after a dozen armed North Korean servicemen boarded the fishing boat and led it to North Korean waters on May 6.
A Weibo message asking for help posted by Yu has been reposted more than 12,000 times, with some Web users condemning North Korea as "ungrateful" for China's long-term aid and demanding the Chinese government punish Pyongyang.
The North Korean kidnappers said the boat sailed into territorial waters, then asked for 1.2 million yuan to let go of the boat and the 16 fishermen aboard. The ransom was later cut in half.
Yu said during Sunday's call, the kidnappers declined to bargain, and set a deadline for the ransom at 5 pm Monday. They threatened to expel the Chinese fishermen and confiscate the boat if Yu doesn't pay the money.
China's foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei told a regular press briefing on Monday that China has kept close contact with North Korea over the detention of the Chinese fishing vessel.
"We have lodged representations to North Korea through relevant channels, demanding the North handle the matter in an appropriate and timely manner and protect the lives and property of Chinese crew members as well as their legitimate rights," Hong said.
According to Yu, a diplomat surnamed Zhou with the Chinese embassy in North Korea called him on Sunday evening, and promised the embassy would hold talks with the North's foreign ministry on Monday at noon.
Yu told the Global Times he held an 8-minute phone conversation with the captain of the hijacked boat on Sunday, and learned that the conditions of the detained fishermen were "not so bad."
The captain said the North Korean servicemen not only removed positioning systems and confiscated all communication equipment, but also took away some machinery parts from the cabin.
The hijacking of Chinese fishing vessels by armed North Korean men is not rare.
It has been reported that three fishing boats from the border city of Dandong, Liaoning Province have been detained by North Korea this year. Two were released after paying ransoms.
Last May, some 29 fishermen from Liaoning were also forcibly taken away by unidentified North Koreans while trawling, and were later released after mediation by the Chinese government.
Lü Chao, a research fellow on Korean Peninsula studies at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times Monday that as there is no clear demarcation line of the sea border between China and North Korea, in principle, fishermen from the two countries operate on either side of 124 degrees east longitude.
"However, whenever North Korean coastal troops lack money, they cross the line and detain Chinese vessels to extort money. And most ship owners choose to pay the ransom if the amount is not too high," said Lü. He also said that some Chinese may have been working in collusion with the North Koreans to extort money.
Yu revealed that the kidnappers had asked him to pay the ransom to a bank account of a company in Dandong, and demanded that the government investigate the company.