One year after a very similar incident occurred in the waters between China and North Korea, North Koreans once again allegedly hijacked a Chinese fishing boat, kidnapping 16 crew members and demanding a ransom of 600,000 yuan, according to the Southern Metropolis Daily and the boat’s owner, Yu Xuejun.
Yu said on his Tencent microblog, another Twitter-like social media platform popular in China, that his boat the Liao Pu Yu No. 25222 and its 16 crew members were sailing in Chinese waters on May 5 when armed North Koreans boarded and seized the boat. The North Koreans then demanded a ransom of 600,000 RMB and required the ransom to be paid before May 19 (and later extended the deadline to 5 pm May 20). The deadline has now passed, while the whereabouts of the boat and its crew members remain unknown.
News of this incident comes on the heels of reports that North Korea fired anther short-range missile from its east coast on May 9, following the launch of three missiles last Saturday, an act that exacerbated the already tense relationship between North Korea and China. Moreover, the alleged incident was not the first of its kind this year, and these incidents are occurring with increasing frequency, according to a public security official interviewed by the Southern Metropolis Daily. Last year, when North Koreans detained a Chinese fishing boat, the 29 fishermen were eventually released, the demanded 1.2 million RMB ransom was never paid.
The most recent kidnapping incident has triggered widespread discussion—with many expressions of anger—among Chinese netizens. Most posts on microblogs, BBS forums, and other online platforms reflected a strong sense of nationalism, with many advocating that the Chinese government take a hardline stance when it comes to foreign affairs. Sina Weibo user @清华吴大辉 wrote:
It is not unusual to see North Korean fishing boats entering our waters, but we never detain them. Russia, on the other hand, takes a much stronger stance. A few years ago, North Korean fishermen often slipped into Russian waters to steal fish, but Russia never compromised. Nearly 300 North Korean fishermen were caught and detained in 2006 alone, and North Korean fishing boats are no longer seen entering Russian waters. Mao’s child [North Korea] is like a spoiled child. If we do not reflect on this matter, we will have endless troubles in the future.
Another microblogger reflected on the implications that the incident had for China’s own government: “The hijacking of the Chinese fishing boat happened on May 5, and it has yet to be resolved. Is this the efficiency of our government? North Korea is monstrous and terrible, while China disregards human life; they really do suit each other.”
Yet more netizens saw the incident as an example of North Korea’s bad behavior. “A primary school student cut his neighboring classmate’s hand. The teacher asked him why. He said, because his hand crossed the line and was on MY desk; I meant to cut his clothes but I cut his hand accidently; please do not sanction me because this would not do anyone any good,” wrote Weibo user @黄秋生.
Though China is North Korea’s sole major ally as China, and their relationship has been described as a friendship forged in blood, tensions between the two countries have been high in recent months, ever since North Korea carried out a nuclear test in February. Many Chinese do not perceive the China-North Korea relationship as it is depicted in government propaganda, and believe that Beijing should take a firmer stance against its “old friend.” Deng Jinwen, the former editor of Study Times, a well-known communist newspaper, explicitly suggested that China should “abandon North Korea, considering it has already become a negative equity for China.” Leading critics think that Beijing has indeed begun taking a different approach towards its former ally.
However, Deng was suspended after his article was published in the Financial Times on February 28. The Global Times, a mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party, issued an editorial on April 12 entitled, “To Advocate Abandoning North Korean is Too Naïve,” a move that made clear it that despite prevailing public opinion, Beijing is still committed to maintaining its current relationship with North Korea: a friendship “forged in blood.”