North Korea returns hijacked fishing boat after Chinese social media erupts in fury

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Any stray fishing boats around?
Any stray fishing boats around?
Image: AP Photo/KCNA via KNS

An absurd episode involving a Chinese fishing boat hijacked by North Korea has come to an end with the safe return of the vessel and its crew. Although the matter was resolved by officials behind closed doors, a fervent discussion took place on social media–and it was decidedly one way.

The fishing boat’s owner, Yu Xuejun, took it upon himself to spread the word of North Korea’s seizure of the vessel and ransoming of its crew via his Weibo microblog: “the captain of the seized boat communicated using a satellite phone, and when I asked questions, it was clear that he didn’t dare speak. We’re afraid that the crew have been beaten.” His updates set China’s netizens into overdrive in condemnation of North Korea.

“North Korea has gone too far!” the hawkish Chinese Maj. Gen. Luo Yuan told his 300,000 followers on Weibo. “Even if you are short of money, you can’t grab people across the border and blackmail.”

It’s not entirely clear who in North Korea seized the fishing boat, but the most likely culprits seem to be entrepreneurial members of the North Korean military looking to supplement their paychecks. The state-owned Global Times newspaper wrote in an editorial that “the North Korean military police are using the ambiguity of maritime borders to make a quick buck.” The editorial concluded with a stern warning for Pyongyang: “if it is difficult to teach North Korea in words, we can make it understand in deeds.”

Chinese microbloggers were also critical of their own government’s accommodating relationship with North Korea, which is  heavily dependent on Chinese aid. One Weibo user, complaining that the negotiations were taking too long, wrote: “is this the efficiency of our government? North Korea is monstrous and terrible, while China disregards human life; they really do suit each other.”