Responding to the Republic of Korea's protest concerning the alleged sinking of a coast guard boat by a Chinese fishing vessel, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the claim was "not tenable", and ROK law enforcement in that particular maritime area "had no legal basis".
Under a bilateral fishery agreement, the ministry said, "the location is part of the waters where ... current fishery activities would be maintained". In other words, Chinese fishermen did not violate set rules operating there. On the contrary, the ROK coast guard violated Chinese fishing rights.
So, in the "serious representations" lodged to "related ROK authorities", the ministry called on the latter to "deal with the incident in a calm and rational manner".
The ROK authorities instead have threatened to use "greater force", including firearms, against Chinese vessels identified as fishing in the waters.
Sharing a long maritime borderline, China and the ROK are no strangers to fishing disputes. Neither is there anything unusual if they have occasional divergences over such issues.
Given the two countries' generally friendly relations, there is nothing that cannot be discussed and properly settled, if they approach their differences reasonably, patiently.
Yet as Chinese fishermen and ROK law enforcement's encounters on the sea have become violent, even lethal, in recent years, the matter is casting a shadow over the two countries' overall relations.
On Oct 29, three Chinese fishermen were killed in a fire soon after ROK coastguard officers threw "flash-bang" grenades into their vessel. On Oct 16, 2012, a Chinese fisherman died after being shot with rubber bullets. Before that on Dec 12, 2011, a ROK officer died after a conflict with a Chinese fisherman.
Accidental as these deaths were, such incidents have exerted negative influences on public feelings in both countries, and threaten to sink both sides in a hurtful blame game.
The unpleasant exchange of diplomatic representations is indicative of the bleak state of bilateral ties at present as a result of the ROK's proposed deployment of the United States' Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system.
But only restraint and rational joint work can resolve their differences.
When it comes to their disputes over fishing, each side has some work to do. Beijing must educate seafaring Chinese fishermen to respect the fishing rights and corresponding rules of neighboring countries. Seoul, on the other hand, must discipline law enforcement behavior of its maritime authorities, so that their encounters with alleged violators become more civilized, less confrontational.
Violent law enforcement is in no way conducive to dispute resolution.