South Koreans rally to support Hong Kong protests against extradition bill
- More than 20,000 Koreans sign a petition urging action from President Moon Jae-in as many remember their own history of protest
- But debate has been fiery on university campuses, where Hong Kong and mainland Chinese students studying abroad have mixed views
Moon has previously promised to act on any petition submitted to the presidential Blue House that earns 200,000 signatures in 30 days.
The country’s third-largest political party, Bareunmirae – which has 28 lawmakers in the 300-member parliament – issued a statement of opposition on Friday against Hong Kong’s proposed legislation, which would allow for the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions the city does not have an extradition deal with – including mainland China.
Violent clashes took place in Hong Kong earlier this week between police and young protesters after a mass rally against the bill saw hundreds of thousands take to the streets.
“We support Hong Kong’s democracy movement,” said Bareunmirae representative Lee Jong-cheol in a statement on the party’s website.
“We hear the strong echo of the cry of a Hong Kong headed towards democracy and freedom. The authorities should not deal with Hongkongers’ righteous demands through physical suppression. We are watching and oppose the government’s oppression by bloodshed.”
Jumin Lee, a Korean legal professional and political blogger, said Hong Kong’s protest movement had touched a raw nerve in South Korea, where street demonstrations have been a regular feature.
The country only became a republic in 1948 – it was previously under Japanese and then American rule – but despite its short history of democracy, people had risen up multiple times to fight for rights and freedoms, Lee said.
There was bipartisan support among the nation’s normally divided citizens for Hongkongers protesting against the extradition law, he added.
“Protests are so integral to the history of our own country, it’s natural we should feel solidarity with the people of Hong Kong. We see a lot of what we went through ourselves, in the streets of Gwangju in 1980, or Seoul in 1987, or again in 2016,” Lee said.
Back then, Lee said, the mood in Seoul had been peaceful and almost celebratory – there were street vendors, live music and food carts, and protesters cleaned the streets and set up tents together.
Ahead of Hong Kong’s next protest against the bill scheduled for Sunday, Hongkongers in Seoul are planning to stage a rally a day earlier using popular local chatting service Kakao.
A Hongkonger attending Sogang University in Seoul, who asked not to be named, said: “Because of my exams I can’t go back to Hong Kong and support them. So I think at least I can do something here.
“The message I want to spread is how this extradition law will harm all of us. And it’s destroying the ‘one country, two systems’ principle.”
Martin Ho, a Hong Kong native working at an NGO in Seoul who has been helping organise Saturday’s rally, echoed those fears.
“I want the world to know the implications of the extradition bill, not only for Hong Kong people, but also expats in Hong Kong or those who step onto Hong Kong soil,” Ho said.
He added that Korean police had been accommodating of their planned rally and had offered support in the event of any harassment.
Posters expressing solidarity with Hong Kong’s protesters have been seen at Sogang University in central Seoul, but there have also been media reports of heated online discussions over the issue and accusations of mainland Chinese students tearing down some of the posters.
A Sogang student and an academic at the university said they could not confirm any such incidents.
Andrew Kim, a professor of Korean studies at Korea University, said the country had a large number of students from mainland China “who may not share the mainstream view”.
About half of South Korea’s 142,205 foreign students last year were from mainland China, according to Yonhap news agency.
Duan Lexie, a mainland student studying in Seoul for a master’s degree in finance, said: “I’m curious what it has to do with Korea? It’s China’s business after all.”
The 24-year-old said Hong Kong benefited from China economically and the city’s smaller foreign exchange reserves meant it would struggle without the mainland’s help.
“Obviously the reason the mainland helps is because we consider Hong Kong people family.”
Another mainland student studying in Seoul said she sympathised with Hong Kong and admired democratic systems, but since the city was a part of China it did not deserve special privileges.
“We envy them,” the student said. “But they’re officially part of China, so it makes sense that they follow the same rules. We’re all in the same boat, they’re not special.”
She added that many Hongkongers disliked mainlanders and opposed Chinese tourism in their city, which had eroded sympathy felt on the mainland.
Kim of Korea University said protesters in Seoul trying to persuade their government to act on the petition would likely hit a brick wall, as president Moon’s administration was sensitive to the views of Beijing. Ties were only just beginning to recover from the installation of the US-made Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-missile system, which Beijing sees as a threat, Kim said.
“[The Korean government] will probably let this pass without getting involved,” he added. “They also might not want it to get too much media attention, since that could be something the Chinese government won’t like. After the THAAD issue, we are all very aware now of what can happen.”