China has called on North Korea to secure the release of a fishing boat and its crew seized earlier this month.
Owner Yu Xuejun said the vessel had been in Chinese waters when the 16-man crew were seized on May 5.
Yu Xuejun said the North Korean captors were demanding a 600,000 yuan ($100,000) ransom.
State-run Xinhua news agency said that diplomats in Pyongyang had been asked for help on May 10 and were working on the issue.
“Upon receiving the call, the Chinese embassy promptly made representations to the… DPRK [North Korean] Foreign Ministry, asking the DPRK side to release the boat and the fishermen as soon as possible,” the agency quoted Counsellor Jiang Yaxian of Beijing’s embassy in Pyongyang as saying.
It called for the crews’ “legitimate rights and interests” to be safeguarded, he added.
Boat-owner Yu Xuejun told Global Times newspaper he had received eight calls from the people holding his crew demanding the ransom.
There have been incidents in the past in the Yellow Sea, which lies between China and the Korean peninsula and has rich fishing grounds.
In May 2012, 29 Chinese fishermen and three vessels were seized by unidentified North Koreans.
China has called on North Korea to secure the release of Yu Xuejun’s fishing boat and its crew seized earlier this month
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 has traditionally been North Korea’s closest ally. But in the wake of Pyongyang’s third nuclear test, on February 12, ties between the two have chilled.
Beijing backed expanded sanctions on Pyongyang over the test and some of its banks have suspended transactions with North Korea’s main foreign exchange bank.
Chinese state press has also become more vocal on the issue, openly debating the merits of alliance with Pyongyang.
Since Saturday, North Korea has fired five short-range missiles off its coast: three on Saturday, and one on both Sunday and Monday.
“North Korea again launched what appears to be a KN-02 short-range missile,” a defense ministry official told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency on Monday.
“We are closely watching the movements of the North’s military in case of further launches.”
The tests also prompted a warning from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday.
“I hope that North Korea will refrain from such actions,” Ban ki-moon, who was visiting Moscow, told Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency.
“It is time for them to resume dialogue and lower the tensions.”
North Korea routinely test-fires these kinds of missiles, but such a sustained launch period is unusual.
There is worry in South Korea that, after suspending the joint Korean economic zone Kaesong Industrial Complex, and restarting its mothballed nuclear facility, North Korea is planning further actions that may ignite an international response.
China has executed four foreign men for the murder of 13 Chinese fishermen on the Mekong river in 2011, after being paraded on state TV.
The men were put to death by lethal injection in Kunming, Yunnan province.
CCTV News broadcast live footage of the men being taken from their cells to the execution site, though it did not show the moment of death.
Many social media users in China have reacted angrily, condemning the broadcast as insensitive.
It is believed to be the first time in China’s recent history that live footage of condemned criminals being taken to their execution has been broadcast.
Chinese internet users spoke out against the special programme, in what some are saying was a throw-back to the execution rallies of China’s past.
Among the prisoners was Naw Kham, a Burmese man thought to have been one of the most powerful warlords in the Golden Triangle of Thailand, Laos and Burma.
China’s state television channel CCTV aired an interview with Naw Kham on Thursday.
“I couldn’t sleep properly over last two days. I miss my mother. It is really painful that I can’t be with my children,” Naw Kham told the channel.
“My mum didn’t know when I was arrested, and I am worrying that she won’t be able to take it when she finds out,” he went on.
Announcing the execution on Twitter, state news agency Xinhua tweeted a photograph of Naw Kham with his hands clasped in front of his forehead. It is unclear when this picture was taken.
Xinhua has said the men had had their “legal rights fully respected” while on death row.
China’s foreign ministry said the case highlighted its determination to tackle cross-border crime.
“I think an important message that this case sends is that it shows the determination of China and the governments of relevant countries to work hard together to combat cross-border crime,” Hua Chunying spokesman for China’s foreign ministry said.
Among the prisoners was Naw Kham, a Burmese man thought to have been one of the most powerful warlords in the Golden Triangle of Thailand, Laos and Burma
The 13 fishermen were found dead inside two Chinese cargo ships in October 2011 on the Thai side of the river.
State media said Naw Kham and his subordinates had collaborated with Thai soldiers in launching an attack on the ships, the Hua Ping and Yu Xing.
The other men were Hsang Kham from Thailand, Yi Lai, who is stateless, and Zha Xika from Laos, said the Xinhua news agency.
The group were arrested in Laos and brought to China in May last year, after Beijing said the attack had happened on board Chinese-flagged ships.
Beijing argued that the men should be extradited for trial – a move which some observers saw as an indication of the considerable political and economic clout China now exercises over its smaller neighbors.
In November, the men were found guilty of intentional homicide, drug trafficking, kidnapping and hijacking.
Two other members of the gang were also convicted – one received a death sentence with reprieve and the other eight years in prison.
Thailand launched an investigation into the allegations against nine of its soldiers in connection with the incident.
The attack came amid a wave of hijacking of vessels sailing on the Mekong which were blamed on gangs operating in the notorious drug-trafficking region.
China, Burma, Laos and Thailand launched joint security patrols on the Mekong in response.
Li Zhuqun, a senior international co-operation official at China’s Ministry of Public Security said the gang had now been broken up, but that “efforts to ensure the safety of the Mekong River will continue”.
“We will continue patrols and law enforcement co-operation with the other three countries to safeguard shipping on the river,” he told China Daily.