South Korea turns fishery dispute into political clash

Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/12 0:28:39

South Korea alleges that a Chinese fishing boat rammed into and sank one of its coast guard speedboats on Friday. No casualties were reported, yet South Korean media has  been hyping up the incident for days. Seoul said Tuesday that it would authorize South Korea's coast guard officers to use firearms, including handguns and onboard cannons, against illegal Chinese fishing vessels if they are deemed a threat.

Descriptions and definitions of the incident so far come from the South Korean side alone. If the details are true as Seoul claims, the Chinese fishing boat should be held accountable and subject to punishment. Before the investigation is finished, South Korea should have the necessary patience.

But overreaction from the South Korean media, and the government's permission to open fire suggest that the country is indulging in nationalist sentiment. In recent days, South Korean mainstream media condemned the Chinese fishermen as a "public enemy of the world" and claimed the "Yellow Sea is becoming a real battlefield."

It is unbelievable that three Chinese fishermen just died from a fire on September 29 when the South Korean coast guard threw flashbang grenades into their boat. The tragedy hasn't been settled and now South Korean media pointed finger at China. They should be ashamed of themselves.

South Korean coast guards are believed to be among the most menacing. They have deployed helicopters and imposed heavy fines on Chinese fishermen, resulting in several cases of death and injury of Chinese fishermen. There was one extreme incident where a South Korean coast guard was stabbed to death in a raid with Chinese fishermen. The incident has been repeatedly hyped up by South Korean media to instigate domestic nationalist sentiments against China.

The maritime boundaries between China and South Korea have split traditional fishing grounds apart, resulting in relentless fishery disputes. China does not support illegal fishing nor incite fishermen to "bully" South Korea. South Korean public opinion does not need to be too sensitive on this issue.

After all, fishermen are a disadvantaged group. Some of them, with a poor sense of the law, risk their future to earn more income for their family. South Korea's punishment of Chinese fishermen is too heavy handed, and this is the real reason that prompted the fishermen to fight a last-ditch battle.

China has put many efforts into handling its fishery disputes with South Korea. With expanding China-South Korea exchanges, Seoul is responsible for many improper operations. Without reflection, South Korea now allows the coast guard to use firearms against Chinese fishermen. This is escalating fishery disputes into political clashes.

The deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system has weakened trust between the two, while the possibility of misunderstanding in case of conflict rises significantly. Both sides should exercise restraint at this time. If tensions spiral out of control, we are clear Seoul would not be frightened, but neither would China.

Posted in: Editorial

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