(Bloomberg) — A Chinese fisherman died from injuries sustained in a South Korean coast guard raid after his vessel entered South Korean waters in the Yellow Sea, adding to heightened tensions sparked by maritime disputes in the region.
South Korea’s foreign ministry notified the Chinese embassy in Seoul about the death and will investigate the incident, the ministry said in a text message to reporters. The ministry expressed regret over the “unfortunate” incident and sent its condolences to the dead fisherman’s family, it said.
Chinese fishing crews have clashed repeatedly in recent years with the coast guards and commercial vessels of nearby countries, including South Korea, Vietnam and Japan. Yesterday’s killing comes amid heightened tensions with Japan over islands claimed by both sides in an area of the East China Sea rich in fish, oil and gas.
The raid on two vessels occurred at 3:45 p.m. yesterday in southwestern waters, according to the coast guard statement. Yonhap News reported that a coast guard officer shot and killed the man during a raid on 30 Chinese boats fishing illegally in the area. A separate Korean-language Yonhap report said the fisherman was killed when he was hit by a rubber bullet.
China filed a protest to South Korea and expressed “serious concern” over the incident, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a briefing in Beijing today. He said China demanded an investigation and wants South Korea to “take concrete measures to prevent violent law enforcement and similar incidents from happening again.’”
Last year, a Chinese sailor stabbed and killed a South Korean Coast Guard officer during a raid on his ship. South Korea occasionally seizes Chinese ships. In 2010, two Chinese sailors were killed when their boat overturned and sank after ramming a South Korean Coast Guard vessel.
China’s territorial dispute with Japan sparked protests in several Chinese cities last month and strained a trade relationship worth more than $340 billion.
Speaking at a briefing in Bangkok yesterday, U.S. Pacific Commander Admiral Samuel Locklear said the U.S. seeks a “peaceful environment” in the East and South China seas. He said it’s important to “recognize these will be difficult issues.”
Rival maritime claims among half a dozen Asian nations have fueled tension this year ahead of China’s leadership transition. China is establishing a military garrison on a disputed island, while the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei are asserting their own claims.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino today said he sees “more room” to discuss territorial disputes with China after it completes its leadership change at a Communist Party congress that begins next month. The Southeast Asian nation wants to resolve the issue “amicably” and there are currently “no back channel efforts” with China, he said.
By Sangwon Yoon, © 2012 BLOOMBERG