China on Thursday called for a peaceful settlement of an incident in which one Chinese fisherman died and two went missing after their trawler rammed a South Korean Coast Guard patrol boat and capsized on Dec. 18. Eight other fishermen were rescued from the water, but one later died.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu claimed South Korea "hopes to seek a peaceful settlement of this incident through negotiations, expressing regret over it several times."
"We're maintaining communication with the South Korean government. We hope that the two sides will settle it peacefully," she told reporters.
Diplomats in Beijing said Jiang's choice of the word "regret" could be misunderstood as an apology, whereas Seoul in fact only expressed condolences over the death of Chinese fishermen.
A South Korean government official said, "It's a shame that China issued a statement that could cause misunderstanding and might look as if we had apologized, even though we only expressed condolences over the death of the fishermen."
The Chinese boat was apparently trying to prevent South Korean coast guards from boarding another Chinese trawler that was suspected of fishing in South Korean waters without a permit and whose crew attacked coast guards with steel pipes.
Meanwhile, when asked whether President Lee Myung-bak's visit to the site of a South Korean military drill site and his encouragement of troops there that day run counter to China's call for peace and stability, Jiang only said China hopes Lee "will do things that encourage peace and promote dialogue."