The Chinese government said Tuesday it regrets the death of a South Korean coast guard officer allegedly stabbed to death by a Chinese fisherman.
The statement from China's Foreign Ministry comes amid rising public anger in South Korea over the incident, which happened Monday during an operation to stop a Chinese vessel illegally fishing off the Korean peninsula.
More than 100 South Korean military veterans and activists protested in front of the Chinese embassy in Seoul on Tuesday to denounce Beijing for the killing. During the demonstration, a South Korean protester slammed his car several times into a police vehicle guarding the Chinese embassy.
Earlier Tuesday, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak promised "strong countermeasures" to protect coast guard officers who are cracking down on increasingly bold incursions by Chinese fishermen.
South Korea's foreign ministry on Monday summoned the Chinese ambassador in protest over the incident.
South Korean officials said the Chinese vessel was halted Monday morning in the Yellow Sea for fishing illegally in South Korea's exclusive economic zone, but outside its territorial waters.
The officials said the captain of the boat used an undetermined weapon to stab two of the four coast guard officers who had boarded his vessel, killing a 41-year-old corporal and wounding a second officer.
South Korean officials say the captain has denied stabbing the officers. The Chinese vessel has been seized and its crew of nine is now in custody.
China's Foreign Ministry said Beijing will cooperate with Seoul in investigating the incident, but urged South Korea to respect the "legitimate rights and interests of Chinese fishermen."
This is the first such fatal encounter between South Korean authorities and a Chinese crew at sea since 2008, when Chinese fishermen killed a coast guard officer and injured six others.
South Korea's coast guard says incursions by Chinese boats have been growing. It says it has cited over 470 Chinese ships this year for illegal fishing, compared to 370 last year.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.