May 21 (Bloomberg) -- North Korea freed a Chinese fishing vessel and its crew after the boat’s owner posted updates on his microblog account saying that he’d been told to pay a 600,000-yuan ($97,800) ransom to win their release.
The ship and its crew, from the northern city of Dalian, were freed today, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing a Chinese consular officer in North Korea. The ship’s owner, Yu Xuejun, said on his Tencent Holdings Ltd. microblog account today that he couldn’t come up with the cash and was “thankful to the Foreign Ministry for its diplomacy.”
The incident may further strain North Korea’s relationship with China, its main ally, as the U.S. calls on President Xi Jinping’s government to pressure Kim Jong Un’s regime to curb its nuclear weapons program. South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se said the North’s “erratic behavior” may be taking a toll on China.
“There are some indications that China is slowly evolving its thoughts and stance vis-a-vis North Korea,” Yun said today. “There is a growing recognition that the misadventure of North Korea is becoming a liability, instead of a strategic asset.”
The U.S. and South Korea have called on China to make greater efforts to enforce United Nations sanctions targeting the North’s nuclear weapons program. A Chinese state bank closed the account of a North Korean lender earlier this month.
China, which filed a formal complaint over the detention, is asking North Korea to investigate and “make a full explanation to us,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said today. No ransom was paid to secure the crew’s freedom, China National Radio reported today, without citing anyone.
In an editorial today, the state-owned Global Times newspaper said that China should maintain its relationship with the North yet deal with frictions decisively. China should not worry about the overall bilateral situation and should let North Korea know it is angry, the editorial said.
“There is no territorial confrontation between China and North Korea,” the editorial said. “It’s more likely the North Korean military police are using the ambiguity of maritime borders to make a quick buck.”
A year ago, a North Korean ship seized three Chinese fishing boats with 29 crew and demanded 300,000 yuan to free each vessel, the Global Times reported at the time.
Yu, the boat’s owner, had posted regular updates on the situation on his microblog following a May 18 post saying the ship’s captain told him of the ransom demand by phone. He said yesterday that he’d been asked to wire the money to a company in the border city of Dandong.
“We only hope that the country can protect our rights,” he wrote in one post yesterday. “And that there are less incidents of boats being captured by North Korea in China’s waters.”
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