Behind the China-South Korea skating line, a deeper cultural divide | Sports

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Chinese and South Korean short-track speed skating fans are battling online over allegations of foul play, exploiting their countries’ historic rivalry.

South Korea was angered by the disqualifications of two of its short track speed skaters at the Beijing Games this week. A protest was filed and South Koreans online called on the team to pull out in protest.

Instead, they stayed. And Hwang Daeheon won gold in the men’s 1,500 meters on Wednesday, giving South Korea its fourth title in six Olympics.

Hwang and teammate Lee Juneseo had been disqualified in the 1,000m semifinals two days earlier, prompting the South Korean contingent to file complaints with the International Skating Union and the International Olympic Committee.

The exasperation of a relatively obscure sport underscores the intense competition between the Asian superpower and the scrappy, high-tech democracy that has thrived despite the ever-present threat from China’s ally North Korea.

Chinese nationalists say that over the centuries Koreans have adopted Chinese customs and sought to make them their own. South Koreans say China seeks to diminish their uniqueness and accuse the government of cultural appropriation, most recently during the opening ceremony of the Olympics last week, when an artist representing China’s Korean minority wore the traditional female national costume known as hanbok.

This sparked a howl of protest on the South Korean internet, which was met by an equally vocal response from Chinese netizens asserting China’s cultural dominance and accusing South Korean skaters of willful misconduct to seek advantage on the track. .

Although no clear link has been established, the assault on a Chinese student in the South Korean city of Busan on Wednesday also prompted an unusual statement of concern from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

“We pay great attention to the issue,” spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Friday. “We will do our best to protect the legitimate rights and interests and safety of overseas Chinese citizens.”

China also stoked nationalism with a pair of box office hits touting the role of Chinese troops in the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended without a peace treaty. Chinese propaganda portrays the United States and its allies as the aggressors in the conflict that began after North Korea invaded the south and escalated with China sending a massive army to aid the North.

Short track speed skating, a chaotic sport where skaters constantly jostle for position while racing down a narrow track with no lanes, has long been plagued with bitter conflicts of judgment.

But tempers had rarely reached the levels of South Korea’s national outrage this week. The reaction underscored pent-up frustrations after years of disputes over history and culture – and echoed wider unease over China’s growing military and economic influence.

South Korea had entered the Beijing Games with a record 24 gold medals in previous Olympic competitions, more than double China’s 10 gold medals. But the disqualifications of Hwang and Lee, both penalized for illegal contact, ensured a slow start for South Korea.

A series of South Korean editorials accused China of abusing their home advantage, while a newspaper temporarily published an article online that repeated the same phrase: “Just let host China win all the medals, just let host China win all the medals.”

The dispute over skating turned to politics as South Korean presidential candidates, locked in heated campaigns ahead of a vote in March, called out the Olympic hosts for allegedly stealing medals in a sport the country has proudly dominated since years.

The Chinese Embassy in Seoul posted an irate response on Facebook, expressing “serious concern” about South Korean politicians and media stoking “anti-China sentiment”.

Still, the embassy was quick to congratulate Hwang on his victory in the 1,500 meters and said the Chinese people had a “positive” opinion of his “excellent skills”.

The ruling Communist Party newspaper, Global Times, sought to play down the dispute, while highlighting South Korean concerns about “regional geopolitics as well as reliance on the United States for security”.

“Some shift that sentiment to China, which is why minor incidents sometimes escalate,” the newspaper said in an editorial on Friday.

South Korea and China have developed close trade-driven ties since the early 1990s, but relations have soured in recent years as Beijing has grown more assertive towards its neighbors while competing with Washington for power. regional influence.

Bilateral relations were hit hard in 2017 when South Korea installed an advanced US missile defense system to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. The decision angered China, which claimed that South Korea’s anti-missile system could be reconfigured to peek into its territory.

Beijing retaliated by suspending tours by Chinese groups in South Korea and wiping out the Chinese operations of South Korean supermarket giant Lotte, which had provided land for the missile system.

Along with politics, the friction has long been driven by cultural issues, including even the origin of kimchi, a Korean national dish of fermented cabbage that China claims as its own concoction.

The parties also have an ongoing dispute over the history of ancient kingdoms whose territories stretched from the Korean Peninsula to Manchuria.

South Koreans regard these kingdoms as Korean, but China began claiming them as part of its national history in the early 1980s. Experts say Beijing’s intention was to provide ideological support for its policies governing ethnic minorities, including the approximately two million ethnic Koreans living in northeast China.

At the height of the presidential campaign, ruling Democratic Party candidate Lee Jae-myung warned China against usurping Korean culture.

His campaign spokesperson linked the hanbok-wearing performer at the opening ceremony to anger among South Koreans over a Chinese government-backed university project launched in the early 2000s that produced a series of studies arguing the kingdoms of Goguryeo (37 BC-AD 668) and Balhae (698–926) were Chinese.

Yoon Suk Yeol, a conservative candidate locked in a tight race with Lee, also embraced the sentiment, describing Goguryeo and Balhae as “shining pieces of Korean history”.

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