[EDITORIALS]Jet-setting farmersHong Kong police gave an unusual briefing to Korean correspondents there on their guidelines for handling illegal demonstrations.
World Trade Organization member ministers will meet in Hong Kong beginning on Dec. 13, and the police briefing was a measure to prevent South Korean protesters, including farmers’ groups, from traveling to Hong Kong for violent demonstrations. The Hong Kong police asked the protesters to respect their laws and warned strongly that any illegal demonstrators will be sternly punished under local laws.
Hong Kong media have also been alerted about South Korean protesters. They featured the violent demonstrations at the Busan Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, where protesters were swinging iron pipes and bamboo sticks.
According to the National Police Agency, perhaps 2,000 Korean activists are expected to travel to Hong Kong to stage protests. Two years ago, Lee Gyeong-hae, a farm sector activist, committed suicide at the World Trade Organization meeting in Cancun, Mexico. Angry protesters also violently collided with police in Cancun as they tried to break through security lines.
Hong Kong police were alarmed by those precedents and dispatched officers to the Busan APEC meeting to study the protests by farmers’ organizations. There are also reports that Hong Kong authorities have reserved cells at the Victoria Prison to detain South Korean demonstrators.
We believe in freedom of expression and legitimate protest. But it is unpleasant to learn that Korea has a reputation for expeditionary protesters. Farm groups have staged violent protests here, claiming that their communities are suffering economic hardships, but they seem able to buy expensive air tickets to stage protests overseas. It may sound too sarcastic, but it appears that Korean farm villages have been earning a lot of money.
Hong Kong laws apply in Hong Kong, and they are strictly enforced. Trespassing over a police line is considered rioting, which can earn 10 years in prison. In Korea, demonstrators beat police and occupy the streets; that is unimaginable in Hong Kong.
Korean farm groups must ask why the international community sees them as a symbol of violence and what Korea will gain or lose because of that national image. Not many foreigners will understand why citizens of the world’s 11th-largest economy have to fly to Hong Kong to protest at a World Trade Organization meeting.