China incensed by Russia's move to charge fishermen

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 July, 2012, 12:00am


A rare diplomatic dispute between China and Russia, in which dozens of Chinese fishermen were arrested in Russian waters, has deteriorated after Moscow decided to press criminal charges against the captains of two Chinese trawlers seized a week ago. The move came a day after Beijing expressed 'strong dissatisfaction' after the Russians opened fire on one of the fishing vessels, leaving one Chinese fishermen missing, Global Times reported yesterday.

The nationalist tabloid, controlled by Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily, cited Russian government officials as defending the use of force as 'justifiable' and saying the dispute could be solved through negotiations and other 'necessary bilateral mechanisms'.

The two trawlers from Weihai , Shandong province, were seized last Sunday and Monday for fishing illegally in an exclusive economic zone in Russia's far eastern Primorsky region, according to a statement on the website of the Chinese consulate in the eastern Russian city of Khabarovsk, near the border of Heilongjiang province.

The vessels and crew were taken to the port of Nakhodka, near Vladivostok, for 'investigation' where they remain. Quoting Russian officials and media, the consulate initially said on Tuesday that Russian coastguards 'were forced' to fire shots after encountering resistance from the Chinese crew and insisted that no one was reported injured.

But a day later, following an outcry over the consulate's statement widely viewed as siding with Russia in the dispute, the Foreign Ministry confirmed that a fisherman from Heilongjiang was missing.

Deputy Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping summoned a senior Russian diplomat on Thursday to demand that Russia conduct a thorough investigation into the incident and to release the 36 fishermen as early as possible.

'China is strongly dissatisfied with Russia's rough law enforcement and use of military force to seize Chinese fishing boats,' Cheng told the acting head of Russia's mission in Beijing, according to a statement on the Chinese Foreign Ministry's website. According to Xinhua, the Russian diplomat said officials were investigating in the incident.

It was not the first time that the Russian coastguard has detained Chinese trawlers in Russian waters.

According to Beijing-backed Phoenix TV in Hong Kong, Russian officials confirmed a third mainland trawler was being held in Nakhodka.

That boat has been detained for about a year, according to the TV report, adding the 18 Chinese sailors living on board have inadequate food and water and are without consular assistance.

Analysts said the dispute would have little, if any, impact on warming ties between the two countries, which have sided with each other on many thorny international issues, most recently the crisis in Syria.

Pang Zhongying , a professor of international affairs at Renmin University, said the dispute exposed the reality of the much-hyped Sino-Russian strategic partnership.

'Although China would like to portray Russia as its ally given its increasingly difficult ties with other Asian neighbours, we have to accept the cold reality that the two countries are not that close at all,' he said.

Professor Wang Yamin , from the Marine College at Shandong University in Weihai, also said Beijing may not want to exert greater diplomatic pressure on Moscow in order to maintain bilateral ties.