China is currently “strongly dissatisfied” with South Korea after the country’s Coast Guard fired machine gun warning shots at Chinese fishermen during a conflict in South Korean waters.
On Tuesday, the South Korean Coast Guard stopped two Chinese vessels fishing illegally within the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone. In response, the Coast Guard ship was quickly surrounded by around 30 other Chinese trawlers, which tried to ram into the South Korean ship.
The South Korean Coast Guard vessel then fired warning shots from a M60 machine gun to put a quick end to the harassment. No fisherman were injured.
“The safety of our own Coast Guard members was at risk,” said Lee Dae-haeng, a spokesman at the Coast Guard’s central regional headquarters, according to Reuters.
While the South Korean Coast Guard has clashed many times before with Chinese trawlers, this marks the first time that they have ever shot at the Chinese fishermen.
At a regular press conference on Wednesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying had this to say about the historic occasion:
The Chinese side is strongly dissatisfied with the use of force by the ROK side in its law enforcement operation. We have, more than once, made solemn representations with the ROK about its coast guard’s use of force in law enforcement operations. The use of destructive weapons against fishing boats in the rough sea will highly likely cause casualties or property losses.
Hua also added that “the competent Chinese authorities attach great importance to and are working hard to regulate and discipline operations by the Chinese fishermen.”
And it certainly seems like that is some very hard work indeed. Chinese fish consumption is twice the global average and thanks to disastrous overfishing nearby, there really never is enough fish in the sea, causing Chinese fishermen to sail farther and farther from home. In recent years, Chinese fishermen have been detained for fishing illegally by Russia, North Korea, Sri Lanka, Argentina and South Africa.
Along with South Korea, perhaps the most explosive conflicts occur in Indonesian waters. In June, an Indonesian navy warship fired warning shots at 12 Chinese trawlers as they were attempting to flee after being caught fishing illegally. On that occasion, Hua Chunying condemned the Indonesian navy for its “excessive use of force” and stated that Indonesia’s actions had violated international laws and harmed the lives and property of Chinese citizens.
That incident followed one in March when a Chinese fishing boat was literally rammed free by a Chinese Coast Guard ship after being seized by the Indonesian navy. In response, Indonesia blew up 23 foreign trawlers seized for illegally fishing in Indonesian waters, hoping to send a message China’s way.
We’ll have wait and see what South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s special adviser thinks her country should do next.