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High-seas stabbing of Korean commando worsens ties with China

The killing of a Korean coast guard commando by a Chinese commercial fishing captain is just the latest in a series of clashes, and reinforces popular Korean belief that China is a threat.

By Donald KirkCorrespondent / December 12, 2011



Seoul, South Korea

Seething tensions between China and South Korea over fishing in the Yellow Sea escalated Tuesday with the killing of a South Korean coast guard commando by the captain of a Chinese fishing vessel in hotly disputed waters.

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South Korean coast guard commandos finally subdued the captain, and seized his vessel and eight-man crew, said South Korean officials, but not until the leader of the commando team was mortally wounded and another team member was injured. The dying commando and the injured team member were flown to the port city of Incheon, approximately 100 miles to the east, in the same helicopter with the Chinese fishing boat captain.

The incident, the latest in a long series of clashes between South Korean authorities and Chinese fishermen, illustrated the rising confrontation in the fish-rich sea where North Korea has also challenged South Korean authority. South Korean analysts strongly question Chinese claims that such episodes are provoked by fishermen acting solely on their own with no support from their government.

The incident “reinforces the broader perception that the Chinese are a threat,” says Victor Cha, director of Asian Studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. Mr. Cha predicts the incident will strengthen “the concern that Koreans have had that relations with China are not all positive” despite enormous commercial relations between the two countries.

China in recent years has claimed authority over both the Yellow Sea and the South China Sea while refusing to blame North Korea for two nasty incidents last year against South Korea. The first was the sinking of South Korean navy corvette the Cheonan in March 2010 with a loss of 46 lives, and the second was the shelling in November 2010 of Yeonpyeong Island, several miles from North Korea’s southwestern coast, in which two South Korean marines and two civilians were killed.

At the same time, South Korean commandos have been boarding Chinese vessels with rising effectiveness, imposing stiff fines that the skippers of the vessels have to pay on the spot. Already this year the South Koreans have imposed fines in 470 incidents, 100 more than last year. The killing of the commando on Monday echoed an incident more than three years ago in which a South Korean sailor was killed by the crew of a Chinese boat off of Mokpo, a South Korean port 200 miles to the south.

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