The Chinese fishing crew seized by North Koreans two weeks ago has been freed along with their boat, reports say.
The 16-man crew was taken captive by unidentified North Koreans in the Yellow Sea on May 5.
China said on Monday it had been negotiating with Pyongyang for their release since May 10.
All were “safe on their way back”, China’s Xinhua news agency reported. Boat owner Yu Xuejun told Reuters news agency no ransom had been paid.
Yu Xuejun had earlier said that the North Koreans were demanding a 600,000 yuan ($100,000) ransom, and that he had received eight calls demanding payment.
“There were no conditions and they didn’t take any money,” he told Reuters.
“They just released them all. I received the call from the ship captain this morning at 03:50 telling me that they had already been released.”
The Chinese fishing crew seized by North Koreans two weeks ago has been freed along with their boat
Last year, in a similar incident, 29 Chinese fishermen and three vessels were seized by unidentified North Koreans.
They were freed after two weeks and it was not clear whether a ransom had been paid, nor whether the captors had been the North Korean authorities or autonomous kidnappers.
China is North Korea’s biggest trading partner and closest ally. But ties between the two have chilled in recent months, in the wake of North Korea’s third nuclear test on February 12.
Beijing backed expanded sanctions against Pyongyang in response to the underground test, and some of its banks have suspended trading with North Korea’s key foreign exchange bank.
Overall tensions on the peninsula remain high following the nuclear test, with operations at the joint inter-Korean Kaesong industrial complex suspended.
In recent days North Korea has fired six short range missiles off its east coast, as part of what it says are military exercises.
Many reports claimed that North Koreans are a few inches shorter than their counterparts south of the border.
Is that true?
North Korea’s recent failure to launch a long-range rocket was embarrassing for its new leader, Kim Jong-Un. It was supposed to be a symbol of progress.
Renewed media interest in North Korea since Kim Jong-Un replaced his father has prompted the re-emergence of a claim which appears to be a symbol not of progress, but of relative decline: that North Koreans are much shorter than South Koreans.
The Independent reported last week that “nothing is small in North Korea apart from the people, who are on average three inches shorter than their cousins in the South”.
This statistic, or versions of it, have been quoted for some time. In 2010 the late Christopher Hitchens put the difference at six inches in an article in Slate titled A Nation of Racist Dwarfs.
Senator John McCain referred to a three-inch gap in a 2008 presidential debate.
So what’s the truth? Professor Daniel Schwekendiek from Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul has studied the heights of North Korean refugees measured when they crossed the border into South Korea.
He says North Korean men are, on average, between 3 – 8 cm (1.2 – 3.1in) shorter than their South Korean counterparts.
The Independent reported last week that "nothing is small in North Korea apart from the people, who are on average three inches shorter than their cousins in the South"
A difference is also obvious between North and South Korean children.
“The height gap is approximately 4 cm (1.6in) among pre-school boys and 3 cm (1.2in) among pre-school girls, and again the South Koreans would be taller.”
Prof. Daniel Schwekendiek points out that the height difference cannot be attributed to genetics, because the two populations are the same.
“We’re dealing with the Korean people,” he says, “and Korea is interesting because it basically hasn’t experienced any immigration for many centuries.”
Martin Bloem is head of nutrition at the World Food Programme, which has been providing food aid to North Korea since 1995. He says poor diet in the early years of life leads to stunted growth.
“Food and what happens in the first two years of life is actually critical for people’s height later,” he says.
In the 1990s North Korea suffered a terrible famine. Today, according to the World Food Programme, “one in every three children remains chronically malnourished or ‘stunted’, meaning they are too short for their age”.
South Korea, in contrast, has experienced rapid economic growth. Bloem says “economic growth is one of the main determinants of height improvement”.
So while North Koreans have been getting shorter, South Koreans have been getting taller.
“If you look at older Koreans,” says Prof. Daniel Schwekendiek, “we now see a situation where the average South Korean woman is approaching the height of the average North Korean man.
“This is to my knowledge a unique situation, where women become taller than men.”
The secretive nature of North Korea makes it difficult to find reliable data for analysis.
Prof. Daniel Schwekendiek has studied refugees, but he rejects the notion that people driven to cross the border to South Korea are the most disadvantaged and therefore most likely to be stunted.
The refugees, he says, “come from all social strata and from all regions”.
He has also studied data collected by the North Korean government and by international organizations working in North Korea, which he says support his findings.
It seems that this height statistic reveals a tragic fact – that as South Koreans have got richer and taller, North Korean children are being stunted by malnourishment.