In the News – North Korea Releases Chinese Fisherman

In the News – North Korea Releases Chinese Fisherman

BEIJING—A group of Chinese fishermen apparently detained by North Koreans nearly two weeks ago has been released, Chinese state media reported Sunday.

The state-run Xinhua news agency quoted Jiang Yaxian, Chinese counselor to North Korea, as saying the detained vessels and fishermen were on their way back to China.

The Xinhua report provided few details about the fishermen’s detention, and it remained unclear why the vessels were detained in the first place and whether Chinese authorities had agreed to pay a ransom in exchange for their release.

On Friday, one of the ship owners, Sun Caihui, said in an interview that captors had demanded 300,000 yuan (about $47,000) for the release of each of three detained ships. In all, Mr. Sun said, 29 people had been held captive since the boats were detained May 8.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry last week demanded Pyongyang protect Chinese fishermen, as growing numbers of Chinese were criticizing the ministry for what was seen by many as an unacceptably tepid response to dealing with North Korea, which is reliant on Beijing for military support and economic aid.

Controversy over the fishermen came at a sensitive time for both countries. North Korea is attempting to solidify support for its new leader, Kim Jong Eun, and has faced increased international isolation following a failed rocket test launch last month.

China is preparing for a sensitive once-a-decade power transfer, which begins late this year. At the same time it has been grappling with growing territorial disputes with Southeast Asian neighbors in the South China Sea as well as a growing U.S. military presence in the region.

The detention of the Chinese fishermen came as nationalist sentiments were already running high in China following a standoff between Chinese and Philippine government vessels in the South China Sea’s disputed Scarborough Shoal.

Chinese Internet censors have allowed unusually open criticism of North Korea on popular Chinese websites, which analysts said signaled growing frustration with the new regime in Pyongyang.

Chinese citizens beyond the nation’s borders have been increasingly targeted as China’s political clout and wealth continue to rise. But analysts question the preparedness of Beijing’s diplomatic and security apparatuses for dealing with such crises.

Earlier this year, Chinese workers in Sudan were taken hostage by a group that Sudan’s government claimed had ties to rival South Sudan. China had been working to resolve rifts between the countries, and the similar capture of Chinese workers there also prompted an outpouring of calls for Beijing to better protect its citizens abroad.

Even some Chinese media have begun questioning Beijing’s unwavering support for North Korea in the wake of the incident. “China cherishes its friendship with North Korea, but should not give it special treatment,” the popular Global Times newspaper said in an editorial last week. “The relevant Chinese authorities should understand that in an information era, any disputes between China and North Korea, especially violations of China’s interests, cannot be concealed.”

Original article can be found here.

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