Grey Area: Southern Weekend Takes on the PRC-DPRK Sea Dispute
Grey Area, New History: Southern Weekend on the PRC-DPRK Sea Dispute
by Adam Cathcart
There are multiple ways to read the evolution of the “North Korean hostage-taking at sea” story. As Roger Cavazos argued recently, it could be a parable of ignored Chinese messaging to North Korea. I argued that the episode could serve as a stimulant of a new (or previously suppressed) kind of anti-North Korean nationalism in China. Others might see it as an indication of disarray in North Korea’s foreign relations
As for evidence of an ongoing sea dispute between the two countries which, from the Chinese point of view, would make North Korea much more like the rest of its neighbors and less of a “lips and teeth” ally, we have Southern Weekend:
Qin Xuan 秦轩, “‘Aid Boat Fee’ in the Grey Area at Sea: 60 Years of a Lack of Clarity of the Sino-DPRK Sea Frontier, 30 Years of Protection Fee Potential Principle 灰色海域‘帮艇费’：六十年未明的中朝海上边界，三十年的保护费潜规则,” Southern Weekend News 南方周末, May 24, 2012. Reporting from Dalian and Dandong. [Translated by Adam Cathcart]
On the early morning of May 21, 2012, three ships which had been taken hostage by North Korean the Liaodan #23979, 235228, and 23536, arrived in Dalian’s Dali Military Harbor. The 28 sailors looked hungry, fatigued, wounded and stinky (恶臭), as they arrived back in China, and went straight to the Dalian Xingshutun Hospital to check in with border guards and have a checkup.
The hostage incident has now concluded a chapter (告一段落). But according to the understanding of this Nanfang Zhoumo reporter, the Sino-North Korean sea frontier has historically become a “grey area” where, since the 1990s, the other side has taken hostage and assaulted China’s fisherman in many incidents which have had to be settled under the table. This is a strange and special “grey area” where Chinese fisherman have been taking risks to make a living (冒险谋生), where the other side has the rights to seek rent for access to the “money field” (i.e., the DPRK’s lucrative fishing waters).
Crossing the Line to Fish? | “Comrades and Brothers!” was the salutation from the North Korean soldier who hailed the Liaodan #23979 as it fished the waters at 4 a.m. on May 8, 2012. The North Korean soldier wore a yellow life vest and carried a gun, putting the nine fishermen, with the exception of the captain, into a goods container about the size of a ping-pong table. The captain went to the North Korean gunboat. Around noon, the North Korean soldier drove the boat to an island, mooring it there, where more than 20 soldiers wearing North Korean military uniforms were carrying guns. Captain Zhu Chuang was taken back to the ship and put into the goods cargo container.
Zhu Chuang has been fishing the China-North Korea border sea area for so many years. Although he was never hijacked before by North Korea, he had heard of similar things happening in the past. After he went into the cargo hold, he comforted (安抚) the fishermen with the assurance that he trusted the North Koreans and their captain to get the problem solved soon.
But this time, the hijacking continued for 13 days [the story now continues on page 2].
At the same day, around 1 in the afternoon, the other two fishing boats, Liaodan #23528 and 25536, were hijacked by North Korea also. The 18 fishermen on these boats received a similar experience. Most of the time during their captivity, these 28 fishermen were crushed into the cargo hold and could only judge the changing from day into night by the light which bled in under the cabin door. The North Korean soldiers allowed the fishermen to have two meals per day outside of the cabin, for about 15 minutes per time, and the fishermen also had to use this time to “go number 2” (蹲大号, i.e. defecate). But for peeing, they could only solve this problem in the goods cargo compartment. “You could only stand up to pee into the empty bottle,” one of the fishermen told the Nanfang Zhoumo reporter.
On May 21, the fishermen who safely returned to China told so many media reporters their memories of the experiences they had with North Korea in this period: Being beaten, rebuked, and threatened many times (多次的殴打，斥责和威胁). In Xinshutun Hospital, the Nanfang Zhoumo reporter saw so many fishermen with wounds; some of their clothing was broken and some had broken toes [unclear]. While Captain Wang Lijie 王利杰 was hiding [from the hijackers], he was beaten on the right side of his head and still had a dark red welt on his right eye.
The reason that the North Koreans hijacked the Chinese boat is because the Chinese boat crossed the line to fish (朝方抓捕扣押渔船的理由是中国渔船越界捕捞)。[Trans. — This is somewhat vague. Having established early on the “grey area” concept, the reader gets the sense that the boat has gone into the grey area, but no coordinates are given as to the boat’s location yet, which would appear to be a central problem. If this is a Chinese admission, it is an amorphous one.] The exact location the third Chinese fishing boat which was hijacked now has become a Roshomon [罗生门, i.e. a story where everyone’s perspective is different].