Liu Qiang, Convenient Criminal

7 Jan

85dc1471-8fa3-4492-a503-610c31d55d9bI never cease to lament the petulance the three major rivals in East Asia, both government and private citizens, display when the situation offers itself as an opportunity to rise above nationalistic hatred. Case in point: Liu Qiang.

Liu Qiang, the Chinese activist who was jailed for hurling firebombs at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, returned to his homeland yesterday, a day after a local court’s decision not to extradite him to Japan.

Liu boarded an airplane bound for Shanghai, his hometown, at the Incheon International Airport yesterday morning, hours before a group of Japanese special envoys made a visit to incoming president Park Geun-hye.

“I appreciate the fair ruling under South Korean law,” Liu said in a phone interview with the JoongAng Ilbo. “Japan should start viewing history correctly.”

Liu, 39, from Guangzhou, was arrested and charged on Jan. 8, 2012 for throwing four Molotov cocktails at the Japanese Embassy in central Seoul. He received a 10-month jail term and was released on Nov. 8.

Upon his release, both China and Japan had requested Korea to send him to their respective countries. Japan wanted him because Liu confessed while under questioning in Seoul that he set fire to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo in December 2011.

A court in Seoul ruled Thursday not to send Liu to Japan because his act was not simple arson but a political crime, so the suspect should be protected.

I can imagine the spectacle described in the second paragraph like a Charlie Chaplin movie. South Korean officials whisk Liu Qiang, wearing a disguise, while an imposter is also entering a waiting vehicle from another exit, zooms away. Meanwhile, Japanese officials careen through heavy traffic, and then have to run a gauntlet of street vendors and passersby who intentionally block their path. Unfair to South Korean victims, you say.  The man only damaged (two) buildings – allegedly.

According to Hankyoreh, Beijing and its netizens showed little more restraint.

Meanwhile, Beijing welcomed the decisions of the South Korean court and government. Foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said on Jan. 3 that China “welcomes this outcome,” adding that Liu was already in Chinese custody and would be returning to China within a few days. As news of the court’s decision spread, Liu was greeted as a “hero” in China for setting fire to the shrine, which is considered a symbol of Japan’s imperialist past. Messages on Weibo, a Chinese microblogging service similar to Twitter, described him as a “hero” and a “true son of China.” Chinese internet users also praised South Korea’s decision, calling it “worthy” and saying that Seoul had “proven it has not forgotten its history of humiliations.”

A Chinese academic taunted Seoul with these suggestions:

Handing over someone, no matter whether Chinese or Korean, who attacked a place where war criminals are worshiped, will make people believe that Seoul might be ready to tolerate and even justify Tokyo’s half-hearted penance for its past mistreatment of war victims. And this would be a self-imposed degradation of South Korea’s national image as well as an insult to the Koreans who fought for national liberation.

The decision would no doubt cause harm to the friendship between the Korean and Chinese people, which in turn would narrow Seoul’s strategic choices in Asia which is undergoing profound changes.

Moreover, the decision would encourage and embolden the Japanese right wing in pursuing its course.

Chinese scholars really need to see the Korean peninsula beyond Pyongyang.

Tokyo’s official pronouncements were a model of sleep-inducing legalese – revealingly expressing “regret”. Yet, Japanese netizens matched Chinese and Korean scorn with taunts of their own.

If they protect a criminal, they’re a criminal nation.

We should sever diplomatic relations with Korea. It’s only Korea and China who are countries that are so blatently anti-Japan!

Koreans will be forbidden entry to Japan.

I see two problems with the Seoul High Court’s decision. Chief Judge Hwang Han-shik emphasized that Liu is a “political prisoner” (Hankyoreh).

Explaining its reasons for deeming Liu a “political prisoner,” the court said his actions in Japan “appear to have stemmed from his rage at the Japanese government’s position and policies on the comfort women [women drafted to serve as sexual slaves to the Japanese military during World War II] and other historical issues, and while Yasukuni Shrine is by law the property of a religious group, it also has status as a political symbol on par with a state facility.”

The court went on to say that “Liu Qiang’s views on historical facts regarding the comfort women issue and other past incidents, the perceptions on worship at Yasukuni Shrine, and Japan’s policies in regard to them share a common thread with the philosophy of the Republic of Korea’s Constitution and the universal values aspired to by international organizations such as the United Nations and most civilized countries.”

“As Liu Qiang’s extradition to Japan would be a repudiation of the Republic of Korea’s political order, the philosophy of its Constitution, and the universal values of civilized countries, it would not conform to our principle of not extraditing political prisoners,” the ruling continued.

Generally, I accept as a rule, that individuals and political and economic entities will disagree, and, even that principles conflict. I would hope governments try to solve disputes, not make a mockery of a flawed extradition treaty by blowing huge Tea Party nationalistic holes in the compromises. Firstly, legally, the deliberate use of violence is generally considered problematic when acts of conscience are involved. And, secondly, extending the status of “political prisoner” to the category of a non-citizen of Korean origin undermines the principle of sovereignty. This is not the sort of international cooperation and solidarity I think responsible governments want to encourage

At his trial, Mr. Liu appealed to the South Korean judge “to understand, as a fellow Korean who shares the same blood, the anger my grandmother and I felt.” He linked his attack at the shrine to the acts of some South Korean nationalist activists who have in recent years cut their fingertips to show anger at some Japanese politicians’ annual visits to the shrine.

Well, it’s Korea. Ironically, “South Korean prosecutors, who sought his extradition to Japan, argued that Japan sought his custody to punish him not for his political opinion but for arson.” There’s hope for cogency and wisdom after all.

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