By Alex Jensen
SEOUL (AA) - South Korean troops were joined by the United Nations Command (UNC) Friday in launching an unprecedented crackdown on illegal Chinese fishing in supposedly neutral waters between the Koreas – two days after Seoul lodged a diplomatic protest with Beijing over the issue.
The South Korea and China have officially held 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.
The problem has not gone away, apparently, as local fishermen took it upon themselves to detain a pair of trawlers last Sunday – and the South’s coast guard said it spotted more than 300 Chinese vessels fishing illegally Thursday.
“South Korea determined that a more effective crackdown and control is needed in the area at a time when illegal Chinese boats could drain marine resources in the estuary of the Han River and lead to possible military clashes between South and North Korea,” according to a government official quoted by local news agency Yonhap.
Another official explained that the South Korean armistice commission informed both China and North Korea of the move earlier this week.
“Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, UNC commander, in accordance with his responsibilities under the Armistice Agreement, authorized the UNC operation to enforce restrictions on fishermen in the Han River Estuary,” read a statement from the UNC.
Brooks, a United States army general, is the current commander of U.S. Forces Korea.
In line with the agreement drawn up after the 1950-53 Korean War, the crackdown will only be able to make use of four patrol boats flying under UNC flags and up to 24 military police officers equipped with limited firepower in the form of pistols and rifles – they will be able to use force after first issuing a warning.
The South’s military announced that there were 10 Chinese fishing vessels in the area when the operation began.
Seoul is also watching North Korea closely, as just a day earlier Pyongyang threatened a “merciless” retaliation against any intruding vessels or drones.