BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese diplomats voiced “concern” about reports that three Chinese were among the crew of a South Korean fishing boat held by North Korea after it entered the North’s exclusive economic waters, official media said on Monday.
The South Korean coast guard said on Sunday that the fishing boat radioed it was being taken by a North Korean patrol to a port in the communist country.
South Korean news reports said three Chinese nationals were among the seven people seized onboard.
The incident could prompt a rare note of Chinese public irritation with Pyongyang, regarded by Beijing as a communist ally and buffer against U.S. allies in the region.
Chinese diplomats in North Korea were trying to check the reports, said China’s official Xinhua news agency.
“If the report is confirmed, the DPRK should treat the Chinese crew members well with humanitarianism, guarantee their rights and interests, and inform the Chinese side of their conditions, the (Chinese) officials said,” according to Xinhua.
South Korea has been holding exercises near a tense maritime border off the west coast, the site of the sinking of one of the South’s naval ships in March. The South, with the backing of Washington, blamed the North for the sinking, which killed 46 sailors.
North Korea has repeatedly denied torpedoing the ship, and its ally China did not join in regional condemnation of Pyongyang, saying that it wanted to reach its own conclusions.
In June, Beijing took a public swipe at Pyongyang after North Korean border guards shot and killed three Chinese suspected of smuggling and wounded a fourth. North Korea apologised and told China it would punish those responsible.
(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)