Sometimes crossing an invisible borderline can get people killed. That is what happened in the latest “incident” in Asia when a Chinese skipper fatally stabbed a South Korean Coast Guard officer who was arresting him for fishing in Korean waters. AFP has the story:
It was the second time in less than four years that a South Korean coastguard officer had been killed, amid increasingly violent clashes in the rich fishing grounds of the Yellow Sea which separates the two countries.
As the article says, things like this have happened before. But this is the first incident in recent memory that might result in a murder trial. A number of Chinese fishermen and South Korean Coast Guard officers have drowned during the past five years as skippers navigate the rich fishing waters near the border. But if the reports are true and the Chinese skipper stabbed two South Korean officers with a shard of glass, it will not go down well in South Korea.Anybody who knows Korea knows that the Koreans are fiercely nationalistic and quick to take umbrage at real or perceived slights. They have to be; a small people surrounded by great powers, Koreans would have lost their independence and even their identity centuries ago if they didn’t band together to resist foreign pressure. Koreans have always been a nationalistic people at odds with their neighbors. Koreans tend to be more suspicious and resentful of Japan than of China, making Seoul one of a short list of regional capitals where China might someday make some headway. But incidents like this undermine that traditional regard, and China does not have so many potential friends that it can cross South Korea off the list.For the moment, the Chinese skipper “has been arrested for murder and violating the South’s exclusive economic zone”. South Korea’s handling of the trial and China’s reaction to it will determine whether or not the story has legs. But Beijing needs to reflect; some things are even more important than fish.