Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - North Korea has released 16 Chinese fishermen and their boat, unlocking a tense situation with Beijing that had gone on since May 5, when they were seized. Beijing's official news agency Xinhua, reported the news citing an official from the Embassy in Pyongyang who spoke earlier with the ship owner. Negotiations to secure the release had dragged on since May 10 last, but until yesterday had not borne any results whatsoever. "All the fishermen and the boat - said the diplomat - are safe and are coming back home."
The crew of 16 sailors were able to set sail again in the early hours of the morning. The owner of Yu Xuejun said that no money was paid, although previously the North Korean side had asked for 600 thousand yuan (equivalent to 100 thousand U.S. dollars) for their release. Last year in a similar incident, a group of unidentified North Koreans held hostage 29 Chinese and their three fishing boats for several weeks, to date it is not yet known whether a ransom was paid for their freedom.
The seizure of Chinese fishermen has raised a storm of indignation and protests at home, with the request for assistance from the government in Beijing for the release of their fellow countrymen. In a vitriolic editorial published this morning (before the announcement of release, ed) the Global Times - a newspaper that often reflects the thinking of the nationalist wing - calls on the government to "make North Korean feel the [Chinese] wrath". China "must take concrete steps - the editorial continues - because if we do not impose rules on North Korea, the image of our government could emerge weakened."
China is the closest ally of the
North Korean dictatorship and its best business partner. Pyongyang's
economy is largely dependent on aid from Beijing, which often ends up only enriching
(and strengthening) the rule of the Kim family. However,
the links between the two nuclear powers have faltered in recent months, in the
aftermath of Pyongyang's nuclear test on 12 February condemned (in a rare case)
also by China. Beijing
has supported the strengthening of UN sanctions towards North Korea, and some
banks have closed the taps of credit.
In recent days, North Korea has also launched six short-range missiles off the east coast, in the context of what the dictatorship of Kim Jong-un calls "military exercises."