The backdrop to the taking of three Chinese fishing vessels by a North Korean military vessel in the West Sea on May 8th is a source of growing domestic and international interest.
Although the Chinese authorities are actively involved in working to resolve the case, the North has taken a largely uncooperative stance. As such, Pyongyang seems to be sending Beijing a message. That message may be that the North is unhappy with the willingness of China to engage in China-Japan-South Korea FTA negotiations, or may reflect dissatisfaction with China’s recent treatment of defectors.
In particular, given the compelling evidence that it was the work of the General Bureau of Reconnaissance, an entity carefully overseen from near the top of the Chosun Workers’ Party, it is regarded as likely that the North Korean authorities gave tacit consent to the plan at the very least.
Lee Tae Hwan of the Sejong Institute explained to Daily NK this afternoon, “This does not seem to be a case of pirates seizing a vessel just to earn money. The North Korean authorities are able to leave a political message for the Chinese in it.”
Professor Yun Deok Min of Korea National Diplomatic Academy agreed, saying, “It could be an indirect expression of discontent at China’s sending of defectors to South Korea.”
Conversely, there are some who simply see it as a standalone case of a military unit seizing three vessels for ransom to earn foreign currency to fund their own survival.
Park Young Ho of Korea Institute of National Unification commented to Daily NK, “There is no political purpose here at all. Simply, one military unit did it to get the ransom because they have been told to look after themselves.”