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Shin Hyon-hee
Monday, Oct 13, 2014

Asia

Death of skipper to have limited impact on Korea-China ties

The Korea Herald/ANN | Shin Hyon-hee | Monday, Oct 13, 2014

In this screen capture from a video released by the Korean Coast Guard, the captain (right) of a Chinese fishing vessel caught for illegal fishing in Korean waters attacks a Coast Guard officer during a raid on Friday, prompting other officers to open fire, resulting in his death.

SOUTH KOREA - Concerns are growing over a possible diplomatic spat with China in the aftermath of the death of the captain of a Chinese fishing vessel during a raid by Korean Coast Guard officers on Friday.

Song Houmu, the 45-year-old skipper of the 80-ton boat, died following a fight with the officers who stopped his boat for suspected illegal fishing in Korea's Exclusive Economic Zone in the West Sea.

As he violently attacked the inspectors despite the warning shots, a guardsman shot him in the stomach with a handgun, according to the Coast Guard.

In a 66-second video released Saturday by the Coast Guard, a man in white clothes who appears to be Song assaults and attempts to throw an officer into the water.

Seoul's Foreign Ministry officially notified Beijing about his death later in the day and delivered its condolences to his bereaved family.

But the Chinese government said it was "shocked," lodging a strong complaint over what it claimed was "violent law enforcement" and demanding punishment for those in charge.

Previous injuries and deaths on both sides soured public sentiment, leading the governments to toughen their lines against each other and triggering diplomatic tension.

But the latest incident's diplomatic impact is likely to be limited given robust bilateral ties and an upcoming summit-level conference in China, observers say, though Beijing's strong responses demonstrate that some spats will be inevitable.

"It would not be any major crisis in the bilateral relationship particularly at a time when Beijing is putting all its efforts into the APEC summit next month.

But as this is about the death of a citizen, they cannot help but issue a stern diplomatic response," a China expert said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

"Also, Chinese officials know all too well the nature of the problems caused by their 2,000 or so fishermen who have been criticised for wiping out fish in nearby waters, for which they have promised to devise some measures."

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard in Mokpo, South Jeolla Province, requested an arrest warrant on Sunday for three fishermen who were aboard Song's Noyoung 50987 on charges of obstruction of justice and causing injury.

They are suspected of having attacked the officers who were inspecting a seized ship after Song approached with his own vessel, apparently to help retake it together with other boats.

A probe is underway to determine the charges against the other 16 sailors, officials say. The video shows that the men wielded deadly weapons like knives, iron pipes, metal pins and beer bottles, injuring at least three officers.

The West and South seas have for years seen a series of violent confrontations between Chinese fishermen and the Korean Coast Guard, prompting numerous injuries and the death of a Korean officer in 2011.

With catches dwindling in vast swaths of Chinese waters, Chinese vessels often sail into Korean fishing grounds to help sate the country's surging demand for seafood.

Last year alone, the Coast Guard seized about 220 Chinese ships for illicit fishing in the West Sea.

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