A South Korea coastguard vessel capsized after being rammed by a Chinese trawler. Photograph: (AFP)
Disputes over illegal fishing have dogged relations between South Korea and China for years
South Korea on Tuesday warned China that it will be compelled to use firearms against fishing boats operating illegally in its waters, after one of its vessels sank after being hit by a Chinese trawler last week. No casualties were reported after the incident. Ilegal fishing has been a bone of contention between the two countries for years, with numerous skirmishes between the coastguard and Chinese crew members.
The country's foreign ministry summoned the Chinese ambassador in Seoul to lodge a stern protest and demand "swift action to investigate, arrest and punish those responsible," Reuters reported.
South Korea's coastguard called a press conference to condemn the incident and warned of easing restrictions on the use of weapons to allow officers more freedom during such incidents
"So far we have been very cautious using such crew service weapons but now...we will take a more aggressive stance in using them when our officers are in danger," senior coastguard official Lee Chun-Jae said. "We plan to use any firearm, whether crew service weapon or individual weapon, to enforce our laws on those who violently protest."
South Korea was initially tolerant of Chinese fishing boats which encroached into its waters to satisfy the growing demand for fresh seafood at home. Its main priority has been to guard against potential incursions from North Korea.
However, over the years, the small boats have given way to larger steel trawlers which engage in bottom trawling—dragging a large weighted net across the seabed that sweeps up everything in its path.
South Korea accuses China's fishing vessel crew members, who they say are armed with steel pipes and knives. of threatening coastguard officers trying to board their ships.
Relations between the two countries deteriorated after an incident in 2011, when a Chinese sailor stabbed an officer to death and injured dozens.
(WION with inputs from Reuters)