Over the past year, maritime territorial disputes between China and Japan as well as between China and various Southeast Asian states have triggered several incidents at sea, raising tensions in the region and beyond. So last week's stabbing death of a South Korean Coast Guard officer at the hands of a Chinese fishing boat captain intercepted in South Korean waters understandably raised concerns that a similar crisis might be at hand.
Instead, South Korea responded by calling attention to another maritime security challenge facing the region, that of illegal fishing, and invited Japan and China to jumpstart a dialogue mechanism to help reduce the practice.
As a result, the incident could become a catalyst for cooperation in waters where the risk of violent clashes remains a constant concern. But it also serves as a reminder of the danger these maritime disputes represent and raises questions about what role China might play in resolving them, said Dennis Roy, senior fellow and Northeast Asian security analyst at the EastWest Center.