Northern Hospitality

Fishing for trouble?

While some adversaries come to the aid of each others’ mariners in distress, some supposed friends have squabbled over claims of officially hostaged fishermen. A good Washington Post article details the fate of Chinese fishermen who ran afoul of the North Korean navy with new interviews from those aboard. While it isn’t clear whether the fishermen were illegally poaching in North Korean waters, their treatment at the hands of a purported ally is markedly different from that they’ve received in recent similar disputes with Japanese and Filipino authorities, among others.

Significantly, the hostile reaction of the Chinese public towards North Korea in this incident mirrors the online anger that erupted against the Philippines earlier this month over the Scarborough Shoal stand-off. As can be expected, the indignity voiced is especially acute for the fact that the two nations are often considered each others closest allies. Said one Chinese internet-user: “We raised a dog to watch the door, but were bitten by the crazy dog!”

However, few experts believe this latest row is likely to shake an alliance cemented more for fear of the second-order consequences of a collapse in the North and strategic reasons than an enduring affinity between the two people.

3 thoughts on “Northern Hospitality”

  1. The incident reveals several things, beginning with the sad shape of this particular naval command. The list of items stolen from the vessels is telling, particularly regarding food, fuel, and stores. Even Somali pirates want, or perhaps, need less than North Korean naval forces on basic necessities the rest of the world takes for granted. One more data point towards how hollow the North Korean military infrastructure is once you peak through the hard outer shell.

  2. Galrahn,

    I do wonder if the boats would have been as thoroughly stripped had the original ransom demand been met, as it sounds as the action wasn’t taken until after the demand was dropped. I’m inclined to believe you’re right on what this says about the North’s military, especially for those troops/commands in areas away from prestigious or important postings. However, the Kim family has been able to rely on the support of the military because it prioritizes their needs and ambitions above all else in the country. So my guess is that the military is not so hollow that anyone at the command was so hungry as to directly need the food (although it perhaps varied their diet), but rather it could probably could fetch a nice sum on the black market. Admittedly the gear and stores were probably easier to come by than through the North Korean logistics chain and a welcome addition.

    Would be interesting to see a simulated engagement between Somali pirates and North Korean naval forces. And while I’m all for international cooperation in the counter-piracy efforts, it might be best for all involved that the North Koreans (even if they could) send no task forces to the Horn of Africa.

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