People hold their mobile phones as they gather to pray for the students who are barricaded inside Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus at Salisbury garden in Tsim Sha Tsui district of Hong Kong on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

For decades, South Koreans fought for democracy, sometimes at risk to their lives. Police, who pandered to the authoritarian governments, quelled protests, claiming that the demonstrators were threatening national security. Incensed by the violence of the police, more citizens resisted. University students led most of the protests, hoping that South Korea could establish a functioning democracy.

Again, South Korean students have started to call for democracy, but this time for Hong Kong, not their own country. Demonstrations for Hong Kong, started by local civic groups and Hongkongers residing in South Korea, are now spreading to universities. This has led to conflicts between Korean and Chinese students in universities across South Korea.

South Korean students have hung banners saying “Free Hong Kong” and “Liberation for Hong Kong.” Most universities in Seoul have set up “Lennon Walls,” featuring memos favoring Hong Kong’s democracy and deploring violence committed by Hong Kong police. Chinese students in South Korea, however, have expressed their frustrations against Koreans.

On the Lennon Walls, Chinese students have written messages criticizing Hong Kong protesters for provoking violence across the city. Some Chinese students have disturbed Korean students trying to hang banners supporting Hongkongers. They have even damaged some Lennon Walls, tearing down banners.

They have also denounced Korean students for interfering in China’s national affairs, saying Koreans have no right to talk about Beijing’s reaction to the protests in Hong Kong. Chinese students have claimed that Koreans poorly understand the relationship between the mainland and the special administrative region, and are justifying violence committed by “rioters” in Hong Kong.

Amid the escalation of tensions between Korean and Chinese students, the Chinese Embassy in South Korea has issued a statement on its official website. It says Chinese students’ anger at Koreans calling for liberation of Hong Kong is reasonable, that Koreans’ behavior risks undermining Chinese sovereignty and distorting facts, and that young Chinese are expressing their anger against Koreans out of patriotism. Above all, Hong Kong is a region of China, and the Communist Party values the “one country, two systems” policy.

Despite the embassy’s statement, conflicts between Korean and Chinese students show no sign of ending. Violence has erupted at some universities, and police are launching investigations. Meanwhile, students at Seoul National University have filed a lawsuit against Chinese students for allegedly damaging Lennon Walls on the campus.

Having managed to fight successfully against authoritarian regimes in the past, South Koreans value the democracy they enjoy today. Many young Koreans who have learned how older generations fought for democracy see the Chinese government’s response to protests in Hong Kong as a threat to the principle democracy. That’s why South Koreans are criticizing Hong Kong police and the Chinese government.

Koreans and Chinese have different views on the Hong Kong protests. But some Chinese students have wrongly committed violence against Koreans, and they cannot justify such behavior in the name of patriotism.

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