The Dignity of the Torch

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Over the past few weeks over-the-top protests during the Olympic torch’s global relay have helped spur anti-foreign sentiment in China, particularly against the French. Now, after the flame’s passage through Seoul, something of the opposite is happening. The fervent and at times violent defense of the torch by Chinese students in Seoul has helped stir South Korean sentiment against China. An editorial in the English edition of the Chosun Ilbo angrily decried the violence. “Seoul was the only city where Chinese people turned violent in the capital of a foreign country,” it read.* “What right do these people have to travel in hordes in a foreign capital, hurling punches and launching kicks at others? This is a serious problem that should not be treated lightly.”

Now South Korea says it intends to deport some of the violent Chinese protesters. We’ve mentioned the dangers of nationalism getting out of hand at home, but in this case there’s a risk that the actions of a few hotheads could harm one of the closer relationships in East Asia. China is South Korea’s biggest training partner, and the university districts of Beijing are filled with young Koreans who have come to study Mandarin.

The possibility of harm to that relationship would seem to be worthy of Beijing’s concern. Yesterday spokeswoman Jiang Yu expressed regret for the injuries caused. “Some Chinese students came out to safeguard the dignity of the torch. I believe that’s natural,” she said. “Perhaps there were some radical actions, but we should recognize the real situation there.”

The end of this clip from Korean television shows a little bit of what could be called “radical actions” by Chinese students at a hotel in Seoul.

*As commenter Tom notes, this quote from the Chosun Ilbo is incorrect. There were reports of violence by pro-PRC protesters in Canberra and Kuala Lumpur as well.