By Kim Tae-jong
Violence by Chinese during the Olympic flame relay in Seoul, Sunday, has ignited anti-China sentiment among Koreans.
The Beijing Olympic torch was successfully relayed from the South to North Korea, supported by enthusiastic Chinese supporters. However, the relay was marred by a clash between human rights activists and an overwhelming number of supporters, which left a sour taste in the mouth of many South Korean citizens.
Before the event, the police's main concern was that rallies by human rights activists to protest China's crackdown in Tibet might disrupt the relay. However, tens of thousands of nationalistic Chinese supporters flocked to streets in Seoul, resulting in an outbreak of violence against anti-Beijing Olympic protestors.
Some, including one Korean journalist, sustained light injuries from the clash in which Chinese expatriates and students hurled rocks, sidewalk blocks and rubbish. Police say they will apprehend those who resorted to violence.
On major portals, Internet users criticized the nationalistic Chinese and shared photos and video clips that show them attacking riot policemen and anti-China activists in a ``foreign country.''
``It's a shame. Those Chinese have completely forgotten the Olympic spirit of peace,'' an Internet user with ``ttottia'' said on a Daum message board.
Others also suggested boycotting the 2008 Beijing Games and demanded that those involved in the violent clash be deported immediately.
Koreans watching the relay were surprised to see the lining up of as many as 10,000 Chinese on streets the flame passed through. About 8,300 policemen were mobilized for the event. Among other questions raised were whether all the Chinese were legal residents or not; how ``foreigners'' could attack citizens of their host country; and why they held a demonstration here, not in Beijing, a Seoul citizen said.
``I started hating Chinese. Why did they do such a horrible thing here? They should go back to their own country,'' Kim Hyun-jin, an office worker in Seoul, said.
Thousands of Chinese, mostly young students, first cheered the torchbearers, singing, chanting and waving posters that said ``We love China'' and ``Go, China.'' But the cheering took on a completely different tone when they met anti-China activists and demonstrators who denounced China's oppression of Tibet and its repatriation of North Korean defectors.
The Chinese supporters pushed through police lines, with some of them hurling rocks, bottled water and plastic and steel pipes at the protesters.
It soon turned into a violent clash that left citizens, riot police officers and anti-China protestors injured. A news photographer was hit over the head and another Korean activist was hurt after being hit by a pipe wrench in the chest.
The pro-Chinese later surrounded, kicked and punched Tibetans and South Korean supporters who waved pro-Tibet banners and called for the protection of human rights of North Korean defectors. They also clashed with riot police, witnesses said.
``This torch run reminds me of Hitler, who first invented the relay in 1936 to divert world attention from human rights problems in Germany under the disguise of `world harmony','' Norbert Vollertsen, a German doctor and advocate for North Korean refugees, was quoted as saying to The New York Times.
Citizens also criticized the police for their lack of stern measures against the Chinese nationalists. ``It is obviously dereliction of duty,'' Seong Baek-ju posted on the official Web site of the National Police Agency. ``How could they not do anything about these Chinese rioters.''
Police detained some of Chinese supporters on the scene and an investigation is under way.
But they are unlikely to face severe punishment such as deportation despite the angry public reaction as most of them are students with the appropriate visas.
``First of all, we will wait for a police report and a court ruling before discussing whether to deport those involved in violence as their human rights must be protected,'' a Justice Ministry official said Monday.