BEIJING - China Central Television and the Beijing News are reporting a rare public maritime spat between China and North Korea.
A North Korean gunboat is reported to have seized several Chinese fishing boats, with a total of 29 people onboard, in the Yellow Sea earlier this month. The North Koreans who are holding the boats and sailors demanded nearly $190,000 for their release and set Thursday as the deadline, or else they will sell off the boats.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei indicated that there is a conflict, but he gave few details.
He said China is maintaining close contact with North Korea to try to find an early solution to the case. He also demanded that the other side ensure the safety, rights and interests of the detained Chinese fishermen.
The spokesman did not elaborate, when asked to confirm whether a ransom is being demanded or whether China suspects any North Korean government involvement.
Chinese fishing boats have occasional conflicts with South Korean, Japanese and Philippine authorities while fishing in disputed waters, but it is rare for them to be seized by North Koreans. There are also reports that there are Chinese among the hijackers.
Meanwhile, the spokesman also had little to say about four South Koreans who are being held in northeastern China after authorities detained them in March.
Earlier this week, the South Korean foreign ministry said Seoul has asked Beijing to handle the case in a fair and swift manner.
The Chinese spokesman Thursday would only say that “competent Chinese authorities have been investigating this issue according to law.”
The South Koreans under detention appear to have been in contact with North Korean refugees in northeastern China to find out about life and conditions in their homeland.