Korean Embassy in Beijing shot at

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Korean Embassy in Beijing shot at

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Coast Guard officers bid farewell to the late Cpl. Lee Cheong-ho yesterday as his funeral car passed at an Incheon Coast Guard pier. Lee was killed Monday by a Chinese fisherman during an operation to stop illegal fishing. [YONHAP]

BEIJING - Amidst escalating tension between Korea and China over the killing of a Coast Guard officer by an illegal Chinese fisherman, a projectile was shot at the Korean Embassy in Beijing, cracking a thick window.

According to the embassy, a small metal ball cracked the window of the embassy cafeteria. The embassy said the window wasn’t bullet-proof and no one was hurt.

“I found the ball at around 12:50 p.m. when I entered the lounge,” an official at the embassy told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday. “We assume that someone attacked the window between 12:30 and 12:50 p.m.”

Chinese police suspect the ball was fired by an air rifle. Chinese law prohibits possession of firearms for personal purposes, except for hunting air rifles. Chinese authorities said that they will investigate.

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Alarmed by the apparent attack, the embassy had meetings with Chinese officials. It was the first apparent attack since the Korean Embassy opened in Beijing in 1992.

“In September 2010, a group of enraged Chinese residents threw stones at a school for Japanese students in Tianjin [northeastern China], when the Japanese government arrested a Chinese fisherman on charges of trespassing in its water,” an official at the embassy told the JoongAng Ilbo. “We are focusing on the possibility that the attack is linked to the arrest of the fisherman who stabbed the officer.”

Another diplomat at the embassy said: “As an embassy building represents the sovereignty of a nation, it could be seen as a serious provocation if a person indeed shot the ball with an air gun. It’s not just a simple matter of throwing eggs.”

Korean media pointed out that the apparent attack could be a response to angry rallies by hundreds of people outside the Chinese Embassy in Seoul, in which eggs were thrown and a police van was rammed.

The Global Times, a Communist Party newspaper known to be more controversial than the People’s Daily, complained about Korea’s demand for an apology in an editorial article yesterday and criticized the protests in front of the Chinese Embassy.

“How is it possible to make an apology for a case that isn’t verified yet?” the editorial read. “South Korean media fiercely condemned Chinese fishermen and protestors insulted China’s national flag in front of the Chinese Embassy in Seoul. South Korean people’s victim mentality and the humiliations [caused by their acts] is almost shocking.

“Even if the Chinese fishermen crossed the maritime border, they would have done it because of their livelihood,” the editorial continued. “The South Korean government has imposed heavy fines on illegal Chinese fishermen, driving them into bankruptcy. So they deserve sympathy.”

However, public opinion in China seems to be veering in favor of the dead Korean Coast Guard officer. A major portal site, QQ.com, ran an opinion poll and 55 percent of 30,579 respondents said that the Chinese fishermen should take responsibility for the death of Lee Cheong-ho, the 41-year-old corporal.

The Incheon Coast Guard held a send-off ceremony for Lee yesterday. Roughly 800 people attended the ceremony including family members and high-ranking officials such as Cho Hyun-oh, commissioner of the National Police Agency, and Gyeonggi Governor Kim Moon-soo.


By Chang Se-jong, Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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