The coast guard confirmed it had halted two Chinese vessels that were fishing illegally in South Korean waters, prompting 30 other Chinese boats in the same group to swarm around and collide with the coast guard boat.
The fishing boats were attempting to flee when they were shot at several times, according to news agency Yonhap. Coast guard chief Kim Jung-shik said officers had sent warnings prior to opening fire but the fishing trawlers chose to ignore them.
“I thought that if we tolerated their resistance further, the coast guard men would be in jeopardy. So we used the machine guns,” Mr Kim said.
During a press conference, Chinese foreign affairs ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying confirmed no one had been hurt or killed during the incident, but condemned South Korea’s actions towards fishing vessels.
“China is very dissatisfied with the use of force by the Korean side in its law enforcement operation,” she said. “We have, more than once, made solemn representations with South Korea about its coast guard's use of force in law enforcement operations.
“The use of destructive weapons against fishing boats in the rough sea will highly likely cause casualties or property losses.
“China once again requires South Korea to exercise restraint, regulate their law enforcement activities, refrain from applying any extreme measures that may endanger the Chinese people and ensure their safety and lawful rights and interests.
“We hope that South Korea can enhance communication and cooperation with us to properly deal with problems emerging in fishery cooperation between our two countries.”
Tensions between China and South Korea over fishing have been high since three Chinese fishermen were killed in a fire when the Korean coastguard tried to apprehend them in September.
In October, South Korea said it would take “a more aggressive stance” against Chinese boats fishing illegally in its waters.
A coast guard boat sank after being rammed by several Chinese vessels, forcing the crew to jump overboard into the water. The Chinese ambassador Qiu Guohong was summoned to discuss the incident.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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