BEIJING - It began two weeks ago, when a South Korean Coast Guard officer was stabbed to death by a Chinese fisherman.
In both countries, public reaction to the incident was swift and virulent. South Koreans took to the streets to burn Chinese flags and lay siege to the Chinese embassy. In China, anti-Korean sentiment was also stoked. Even Japan was alarmed.
On the diplomatic front, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman expressed the standard regrets, while South Korean authorities announced major new plans for an integrated approach to eradicate illegal fishing by Chinese boats. South Korea also vowed to invest 932 billion won ($806 million) over the next four years for combating illegal fishing, as well as increasing the punishments for illegal fishing.
But perhaps the strongest reaction was Seouls decision that its coast guards will from now on carry guns and are authorized to fire if necessary when dealing with illegal fishing activities.
It is not uncommon internationally for marine police to use force to intimidate or enforce expulsion. In most cases, the maritime law enforcement officers open fire when the perpetrators try to escape or the vessel does not accept examination.
In a 2006 incident a Japanese fishing boat ignored a warning and tried to escape from a Russian patrol ship. The Russian border guards fatally shot one of the Japanese crew.
Force is often necessary because civilian vessels or fishing boats are often used in smuggling, drug trafficking, or even for military intelligence purposes.
During the Cold War, all sorts of ocean fishing vessels and tugs from the Soviet Union used to trail behind American aircraft carriers. Chinese naval maneuvers often encounter many foreign observers.
What one should ponder is why a simple criminal case can touch so many peoples nerves, and in particular, provoke such over-reaction from South Koreans?
We have already seen in the past how minor civil disputes have too often turned into major Sino-South Korea, Sino-Japan or Japan-South Korea diplomatic events.
The leaders of these three countries are seeking to promote regional economic integration. Their academics are discussing a Non-Western style East Asia Cultural Circle. But we should seriously consider whether or not, under the current mutual mistrust of their people, such an alliance can actually be carried out.
The South Korean coast guards will now be carrying guns when enforcing their duty. So what?
Read the original article in Chinese
Photo - Bruce Tuten