Surprising reports that North Korean soldiers captured, beat and robbed a group of Chinese fishermen have been widely spread in the past few weeks.The details are vivid and alarming. “They used the back of their machine guns to hit us and also kicked us,” one released fisherman told the LA Times. “They stripped us of all our clothes after the beating, including sock and shoes. Most of us had only underwear left.”
The soldiers reportedly demanded a ransom for their release.
While the incident seems unlikely to be official North Korean policy, its symbolic might can’t be ignored. For decades China has been North Korea’s one true ally in the world, providing investment, aid and fuel — trade between the nations is at an all time high and there have been some suspicions that China is aiding the North Korean missile program.
Recently, however, there have been some signs that the relationship may be hitting trouble waters. China finally agreed to stop repatriating North Korean refugees earlier this year, for example.
For North Korea, the fishermen incident couldn’t come at a worse time. China is reeling from domestic scandals and dialogue within the country is taking an increasingly nationalistic tone. Another national embarrassment may not be tolerated.
Despite the fact that the fishermen have been freed, Chinese media shows no sign of dropping the story without repercussions. The Global Times has demanded that China doesn’t allow any “misbehavior by North Korea”, while Massoud Hayoun of the Atlantic notes that Weibo has been full of criticisms of the Chinese government’s continued support for North Korea.
“Why is China still taking care of little North Korea??? Why feed a stray dog,” one user posted.
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