Officials in Beijing say 16 Chinese fishermen who were seized for ransom in North Korea have been released.
The official Xinhua news agency reported the development Tuesday, quoting a Chinese consular official in Pyongyang who spoke with the owner of the fishing boat. The official said the men were safe and on their way home, but he gave no other details.
The owner of the boat says North Korea was demanding nearly $100,000 for the return of the boat and crew, which were taken May 6 in the waters between China and the Korean peninsula. He says he did not pay any money for the release.
It remains unclear who in North Korea was responsible for the kidnapping. Xinhua said the boat was "seized by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea," the North's official name, but it did not elaborate.
The incident has prompted an angry reaction on China's microblogs, and threatens to upset already tense diplomatic relations between the two allies.
Before the release, the Global Times, the mouthpiece of China's Communist Party, said in a Tuesday editorial that Beijing should "let the North Korean side know we are angry."
If North Korea continues to "go rogue," the editorial said, China should "take actions to push it toward a more measured response." Pyongyang is heavily reliant on Beijing for economic aid and diplomatic support.
There are other signs the relationship is beginning to sour. Earlier this month, the state-run bank of China halted business with North Korea's main foreign exchange bank, in a move seen as a toughening of Beijing's stance against Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.
It is not the first time Chinese sailors have been held in Pyongyang. A year ago, unidentified North Koreans detained 29 fishermen and a number of vessels for weeks and unsuccessfully demanded a ransom, before releasing them.