The Korean Coast Guard’s West regional headquarters in Mokpo said Thursday that it would take legal action and seek arrest warrants for 11 Chinese crewmen and fishermen for obstruction of justice.
The Coast Guard officials investigated the incident involving illegal fishing by the Chinese crewmen in Korea’s Exclusive Economic Zone in the West Sea, and found that they used weapons, such as axes and saws, and violence against the Korean marine police.
The latest clash claimed one life of a Chinese fisherman who was hit by a rubber bullet fired by a Coast Guard officer during the scuffle.
The Korean Coast Guard said that it would continue to strictly deal with illegal fishermen who violently counter law enforcements, but will “humanely” deal with those who cooperate.
This comes after China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei urged Korea to fairly investigate and enforce the law nonviolently.
“The Chinese Foreign Ministry and the Chinese Embassy in Seoul will closely monitor the investigation process and urge the ROK to thoroughly investigate the case so as to protect the safety of the lives and legal rights of Chinese fishermen,” Hong said, as reported in China’s Xinhua news agency.
Hong added that the Chinese government has always encouraged legal fishing in the sea.
China has not lodged an official complaint, and will not likely blow-up this situation as the Korean police have video evidence that shows the violent acts of Chinese fishermen, a Korean government official said.
Also, the two countries do not want this to further escalate into a diplomatic row as they already face a number of disputed issues in the region.
However, legal and academic experts said that the EEZ in the West Sea will continue to pose a dilemma for Korea and China since there is no real “concrete binding agreement” over the zone claimed by the two countries.
Also, international maritime laws cannot justify either of the two sides’ territorial, or to be more exact “perimeter,” claims over the EEZ as the laws are unclear and vague.
This is the reason sovereignty rights over leodo, a submerged rock in the zone, is in constant dispute between Korea and China, or Dokdo in the East Sea between Korea and Japan, or the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea between China and Japan.
The West Sea has been the source of dispute in marine resources between Korea and China where over 4,000 Chinese boats had been either detected or seized by Korean coast guards since 2001 when the two sides signed a fishery agreement.
The agreement limits only 1,500 Chinese boats to catch 47,000 tons of fish in Korea’s EEZ, but officials in Seoul argue that this has been useless as China has not kept its fishermen from illegal activities.
More than five to six times the allowed number of boats illegally enter Korean waters.
One reason for an increase in illegal fishing is that there are more attractive marine resources in Korea’s EEZ than in China, according to the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Lawmakers of the National Assembly’s land, transport and maritime affairs committee said that the responsibility of watching over illegal activities in Korean waters should be streamlined for efficiency. Four agencies ― the Korea Coast Guard; the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs; the Ministry of Fisheries; and the National Police Agency ― have jurisdiction over the matter, which makes it difficult to manage and enforce the law.
By Park Hyong-ki (firstname.lastname@example.org)