The responses of Korea and Beijing in times of diplomatic conflicts are markedly different. China uses threatening tones to demand the protection of its national interests and citizens, but Korea is unable to claim even its basic rights because it forever tries to keep things from escalating. That was how Korea reacted in the garlic trade dispute with China in 2000 and more recently in its approach to illegal Chinese fishing in the West Sea.
When Korean maritime police seized three Chinese trawlers off the coast of South Jeolla Province on Oct. 23 for illegally fishing in Korean territorial waters, the Chinese government issued a statement via Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu demanding that Seoul enforce its laws in a "civilized manner" by avoiding violence and guaranteeing the safety and rights of its citizens.
Jiang's comments were unbelievable. What she failed to mention was that Chinese fishermen not only trespassed on Korea's exclusive fishing zone but assaulted Korean maritime police with shovels, bludgeons and other weapons. Instead, she complained that Korean maritime police resorted to force in order to arrest them. China ignores the death of Park Kyung-jo, a maritime police officer who was stabbed to death by a Chinese fisherman in 2008.
It also used language which most governments would be careful to avoid. By telling Korea to use "civilized" ways to enforce its laws, experts say China is in fact implying that Seoul’s tactics are barbaric. Yet Beijing has no business demanding Korea abide by "civilized" principles if it cannot teach its fishermen to behave in a civilized manner and respect Korean laws.
The reason China is behaving this way is because the Korean government has failed to respond firmly and stick to its guns. If the Foreign Ministry had any pride, it would at least have issued a statement urging China to take an objective look at the incident, inform its citizens of the need to respect the laws of other countries and prevent a repeat of such violations, while reminding Beijing that it also has a duty to prevent emotional conflicts from flaring up. If necessary, the ministry should have shown footage of the arrest and displayed the weapons the Chinese fishermen used so that the Chinese media stop making false accusations. Instead, the ministry is silent, as if it had failed to notice the insult.
Korean maritime police also failed to stick to their principles. Maritime police in Mokpo, which rounded up the Chinese fishermen, should have arrested them for assault and obstructing official duties. But they ended up releasing them for the absurd reason that "they were quickly overpowered, even though they did put up resistance."
In dealing with a big power, the weaker country has only universal values and international law on its side. Once it surrenders these principles and starts kowtowing, it is at the mercy of the stronger country. Next year marks the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and China. It is time to put some deep thought into what it means to maintain a "strategic cooperative partnership."
By Jee Hae-bum from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk