SEOUL—Kim Ji-mun, a 23-year-old South Korean university student, had just put up a banner on campus with his friends in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests when a group of Chinese students tried to take it down.
The encounter at Hanyang University in Seoul led to a seven-hour confrontation, he said, with the Koreans trying to protect their hand-written poster bearing the message “We join the democracy movement in Hong Kong,” and the other side jeering, throwing things and chanting “One China.”
“They come in groups, cursing and saying they would kill us. They took photos of the students who support Hong Kong and shared them on social media,” Kim told Reuters.
Kim said the Chinese students mocked the South Koreans in the altercation on Nov. 13, suggesting they had been paid to back Hong Kong, and making that point by throwing coins at them.
Hong Kong has been rocked by five months of protests by big crowds, with young people at the forefront, angered by what they see as Beijing’s stifling of freedoms despite a “one country, two systems” promise of autonomy when the city returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
South Korea has its own painful history of student-led, pro-democracy protests, in particular a l980 uprising crushed by troops.
“South Korea received support from foreign countries when we fought for democracy. I couldn’t remain silent as I also share the belief in the value of democracy,” said another student, Kang Min-seo, 24.
Reuters could not track down contact information for the Chinese students involved in the Wednesday confrontation, or in several similar incidents that have taken place at South Korean universities.
Hong Kong’s protests have stirred similar confrontations in various places around the world in recent weeks, usually involving patriotic Chinese students.
A coalition of students supporting the Hong Kong protests criticized the Chinese embassy in South Korea, saying it facilitated the Chinese students’ attempts to undermine democracy, and called for a protest next week to raise awareness of the issue.
“I have a room-mate from mainland China and we don’t talk about politics because we’d argue,” said Huang Shun Yi, a Taiwanese student at Hanyang University.
“But for me, Hong Kong and Taiwan are like brothers, and I want to help.”
At Seoul National University, students have created their own “Lennon Walls”—mosaics of Post-it notes named after the John Lennon Wall in communist-controlled Prague in the 1980s—which have appeared in Hong Kong.
Kim Dong-yoon, 23, a student at Korea University said Hong Kong’s protesters needed international support.
“We young people might seem uninterested in politics but we have pride in the principles of democracy,” Kim said.
By Hayoung Choi and Hyonhee Shin