By Alex Jensen
SEOUL (AA) – South Korea remained vigilant in its efforts to protect local fishing stocks from illegal Chinese fishing Saturday, with a government official revealing that the previous day’s joint military maneuver with the United Nations Command (UNC) was set to continue.
Not since the 1950-53 Korean War have the tense waters around the Han River’s estuary been the scene of a joint military operation between South Korea and the UNC -- the area is considered neutral territory under an armistice agreement with North Korea.
“The military plans to resume the crackdown operation to stop the boats fishing at high tide if the boats come down to our side and start illegal fishing,” the South Korean official was quoted as saying by local news agency Yonhap.
Seoul has become increasingly concerned about its marine resources being drained by Chinese fishermen, who are known to escape to North Korean waters.
After retreating during the inaugural military operation to warn them away, 10 vessels from China were reportedly still in the North’s territory early Saturday.
Beijing insisted Friday via a foreign ministry spokesperson that “China puts great importance on educating its fisherman.”
The South and China have held regular talks on illegal fishing since 2012 following the death of a South Korean coast guard officer who was stabbed during a confrontation with a Chinese crew.
But the problem has not been resolved, with Seoul’s defense ministry reporting that illegal Chinese fishing vessels were spotted on more than 500 occasions during the first five months of this year alone.
In line with the armistice agreement drawn up after the 1950-53 Korean War, the joint operation can make use of four patrol boats and up to 24 military police officers equipped with pistols and rifles -- they will only be able to use force after issuing a warning.