A court in South Korea gave a 30-year prison term Thursday to a Chinese fisherman for stabbing a South Korean coast guard officer to death in December. China immediately protested the ruling.

The stabbing occurred after South Korean officers boarded a Chinese boat over suspicions of illegal fishing in the Yellow Sea. The incident prompted anger in both countries and led their presidents to agree to work toward preventing more clashes.

South Korea's Incheon District Court said Thursday's sentencing was a warning against future violence.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told a news conference in Beijing that China rejected the South Korean sentencing. He said China urged South Korea to properly handle the case and called on Seoul to respect the legitimate rights of Chinese fishermen.

Chinese fishing boats have been going farther afield to feed growing domestic demand for seafood. With some 300,000 fishing vessels and 8 million fishermen, the Chinese fishing industry is by far the world's largest. But catches have decreased in waters close to China's shores, forcing the fleet to venture farther.

South Korea's coast guard says it has seized hundreds of Chinese ships over the years for illegal fishing in the Yellow Sea, which is rich in blue crabs, anchovies and croaker. The ships are usually released after a fine is paid, though violence occasionally occurs.

In 2008, one South Korean coast guard officer was killed and six others injured in a clash with Chinese fishermen in South Korean waters.


Associated Press writer Scott McDonald contributed to this report from Beijing.