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Skaters find themselves a target of China’s ire

Seoul’s diplomats get official protest  PLAY AUDIO

Feb 03,2007
China has reacted strongly and angrily to a bit of political theater by a South Korean ice skating team, protesting both through sports association channels and officially, to the South Korean Embassy in Beijing.
The incident occurred Wednesday evening, when the Korean women’s short-track skating team accepted their silver medals in the 3,000-meter event at the Winter Asian Games, held in Changchun, China. The women held up signs that read, “Mount Paektu is our land.”
The Chinese were not amused. After the protest, a senior official of the games’ organizing committee tracked down Kim Jung-kil, the chairman of the Korean Olympic Committee, at the airport in Changchun. He reportedly demanded an apology; Mr. Kim said only that he would inform his country’s athletes of the Chinese complaint.
In Beijing, the Foreign Ministry called in Korean diplomats Thursday to issue a strong complaint about the incident.
Seoul did not say anything publicly about the protests yesterday; officials here said they did not want the problem to become a diplomatic incident. Privately, a senior official said Seoul had, in essence, asked China to calm down. He said the protest was not premeditated ― at least, presumably, by people other than the young women ― and that Seoul did not want it to be interpreted politically. Another official said the Korean diplomats summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Beijing had neither apologized nor expressed regret for the incident. “This is not a matter for the administration to apologize about,” he said.
Jeon Ji-su, one of the skaters, said the team was defending Korea’s territorial integrity. “We planned the protest because we were upset to see the Chinese calling the mountain Mount Changbai during the opening ceremony,” she said, referring to the Chinese name for Paektu, where the North Korean-Chinese border crosses the mountain’s peak.
She added that the protest was also triggered in part by what she called biased officiating by a Chinese official against another Korean skater.
Bae Chang-hwon, head of the South Korean sports delegation for the winter games, was taking the matter somewhat more seriously. He said yesterday that he had sent a letter to the Chinese organizing committee and the Olympic Council of Asia.
He said in that letter, “The young athletes did not plan the ceremony with political motives. I express regret over the incident and seek your understanding based on the spirit of reconciliation between Korea and China.”


By Lee Sang-eon(JoongAng Ilbo/ Ser Myo-ja(Staff Writer)[myoja@joongang.co.kr]


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