Seoul and Beijing have agreed to work together to prevent illegal fishing by Chinese trawlers in jointly controlled waters. The fisheries ministers of the two countries reached the agreement in a meeting ahead of President Park Geun-hye's visit to China.
"China's State Oceanic Administration and Korea's Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries agreed in principle to jointly crack down on illegal fishing in the jointly controlled area in the West Sea," a senior government official said on Wednesday. "The two sides agreed to further try to conclude a formal accord."
Illegal fishing here has been a persistent headache for the Korean government. Korean coast guards have sometimes been violently attacked by Chinese fishermen when they tried to prevent them, and a diplomatic row ensued after a Chinese fisherman was killed during a crackdown.
Since the mid-2000s, Seoul has persistently demanded that the two countries conduct joint patrols in these waters, but Beijing did not respond to the proposal before.
After Coast Guard officer Lee Cheong-ho was killed during a crackdown on illegal Chinese fishing boats in December 2011, Korean Coast Guard officers last year went aboard Chinese Coast Guard patrol boats to observe how they tried to prevent illegal fishing, but the joint operations did not continue.
The government has reinforced patrols and equipment, but the measures have only had limited success because the Korean Coast Guard has no way to stop Chinese trawlers from entering Korean territorial waters with their abundant fish stocks. Only a joint operation can prevent the vast fleets of Chinese trawlers from straying in the first place.