By Alex Jensen
SEOUL (AA) – There was no sign of Chinese vessels illegally fishing between the Koreas, according to Seoul’s military chiefs Monday -- indicating the success of a first military operation involving South Korea and the United Nations Command in the area since the 1950-53 Korean War.
The Han River’s neutral estuary waters are strictly controlled under the terms of the armistice agreement that brought the war to an end.
But after years of failing to prevent Chinese vessels from fishing illegally, the South was joined by the UN Command in kicking off a risky operation comprising a maximum of four patrol boats last Friday.
A statement from South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) announced that all Chinese fishermen were out of the area as of Monday afternoon -- nearly a dozen Chinese boats had sought refuge in North Korean waters over the weekend.
The South’s JCS insisted that the joint military operation would continue to prepare “against the possibility that the Chinese return to the neutral waters”.
While North Korea has remained silent on recent developments, Seoul has been wary of a potential confrontation considering the history of tense standoffs and post-war battles along the western sea border.
A South Korean defense ministry spokesperson speculated that “there is a possibility” the heavily sanctioned North allows Chinese vessels to enter its waters in order to raise cash.
Beijing’s official stance for years has been that it is educating fishermen -- bilateral talks with Seoul on the issue have been held since the stabbing death of a South Korean coast guard officer who confronted a Chinese crew in 2011.
Despite their official meetings, the South’s government earlier reported that boats from China were spotted fishing illegally on more than 500 occasions during the first five months of this year alone.