Korean Forces Fire Warning Shots at Chinese Fishermen
On December 19, a South Korean patrol boat fired 250 rounds of automatic and small-arms fire to repel 44 "reinforced" Chinese fishing boats that had crossed into South Korean waters near Gageodo Island. The warning shots included 180 rounds from an M-60 machine gun.
The Korea Coast Guard said in a statement that the flotilla of fishing vessels had been up-armored with steel mesh and iron bars, and it asserted that these boats "sought to swarm around and collide with our patrol ship, ignoring the broadcast warnings." The Korean foreign ministry said that the warning shots were a "legitimate step" in line with domestic law, and were justified in light of a "mass violation of the country's waters."
The action appears to comply with new rules of engagement authorized in October 2016 after a Korea Coast Guard speedboat was rammed and sunk by a Chinese fishing vessel during an interdiction. Senior officials decided to allow the wider use of firearms – including the use of automatic crew-served weapons – after the potentially deadly incident, which one officer described as "attempted murder."
China's foreign ministry expressed concern about the Korean agency's forceful response to alleged incursions. "The Chinese side has always attached great importance to foreign fishery administration and taken active and effective measures to safeguard the fishery production order in relevant waters," said spokeswoman Hua Chunying at a regular briefing. "We hope that the [Korean] side can properly settle relevant issues, refrain from taking extreme measures that will endanger people's safety in the course of law enforcement, effectively protect the safety and legitimate rights and interests of the Chinese fishermen."
Chinese vessels regularly cross over into South Korean waters to fish illegally, prompting an enforcement response from the Korea Coast Guard. The frequent confrontations have led to the deaths of Korean coastguardsmen and Chinese fishermen alike. In September 2016, three fishermen died in a fire after the Korea Coast Guard used flashbang stun grenades during a forced boarding, igniting a blaze in the fishing boat's deckhouse. One fisherman was shot and killed in October 2014; another died after being hit by rubber bullets in 2012. A South Korean coast guard officer was stabbed and killed during an interdiction mission in 2011, and another was struck and killed in 2008.