Chinese trawlers fishing in South Korean waters have become commonplace. Violent clashes with South Korean coast guards are increasingly frequent. With hindsight, this weekend’s fatal fight at sea that left a South Korean coast guard captain dead and another wounded was sadly inevitable.
The coastguard reportedly died after being stabbed by the captain of the fishing vessel with a shard of glass from a broken wheelhouse window after the South Koreans had boarded the vessel. The captain and crew of eight were arrested after the struggle.
South Korea has seized more than 470 Chinese fishing vessels so far this year. Seoul’s patience with Beijing over stopping the fishing in its waters is running thin. Yet the incident is unlikely to provoke the same sort of diplomatic crisis that followed the ramming in disputed waters of a Japanese coast guard vessel last year by a Chinese fishing boat. Beijing’s response to Seoul has been conciliatory, not belligerent. Relations between Beijing and Seoul are on a firmer footing than those between Beijing and Tokyo. Whether that leads to a reining in of China’s fishing fleet from the crab- and anchovy-rich waters of the Yellow Sea is another matter.