Chinese man caught sneaking into Korea on jet ski said to be activist seeking political asylum

Posted on : 2023-08-23 17:04 KST Modified on : 2023-08-23 17:04 KST
The man, identified as human rights activist Kwon Pyong, navigated across 300 km of open water between China and Incheon
Kwon at a memorial rally for the Tiananmen Square protests in Hong Kong. (courtesy of Lee Dae-seon)
Kwon at a memorial rally for the Tiananmen Square protests in Hong Kong. (courtesy of Lee Dae-seon)

A Chinese national who was recently arrested for attempting to clandestinely enter South Korea via jet ski has been identified as human rights activist Kwon Pyong.

Kwon, a 35-year-old ethnic Korean, reportedly claimed to have crossed the sea from China to Incheon to seek asylum from political repression in China.

“The Chinese national arrested for illegally entering the country is human rights activist Kwon Pyong,” Lee Dae-seon, an international solidarity campaigner, told the Hankyoreh after speaking to Kwon on Tuesday. “He has been subjected to political repression, such as being arrested by the secret police in 2016 for posting a photo of himself wearing a T-shirt with a slogan satirizing Chinese President Xi Jinping on his social media accounts.”

Lee visited Kwon, who was being detained at the Incheon Coast Guard Station on charges of violating the Immigration Control Act, on Tuesday morning.

Explaining that Kwon had “come to South Korea to seek political asylum in the face of repression by the Chinese authorities,” Lee said that Kwon had been banned from leaving the country and lived under constant surveillance, forcing him to seek to enter Korea clandestinely on a jet ski.

“After graduating from a US university, Kwon led a normal life as an office worker in China, but his criticism of the country’s political censorship system and his public support of detained human rights lawyers led him to be a target of crackdowns by the Chinese government,” Lee added.

A photo Kwon posted of himself on social media in 2016 wearing a shirt that reads “Xitler” — comparing Chinese President Xi Jinping to Adolf Hitler. (courtesy of Lee Dae-seon)
A photo Kwon posted of himself on social media in 2016 wearing a shirt that reads “Xitler” — comparing Chinese President Xi Jinping to Adolf Hitler. (courtesy of Lee Dae-seon)

In 2016, Kwon was held in solitary confinement for four months on charges of “inciting subversion of state power,” and in February 2017, he was sentenced to one year and six months in prison by the Jilin Provincial People’s Court, a term which he completed, Lee said.

Kwon’s Chinese name is Qian Ping, but he preferred to use the Korean rendition of his name online.

According to Lee, Kwon intends to begin the refugee application process as soon as the investigations wrap up.

“As an ethnic Korean, he has relatives in South Korea and is seeking asylum here. He has been consistently requesting asylum from when he was first arrested by the Coast Guard until he was sent to the prosecutors,” Lee said. “If the South Korean government does not accept his asylum request due to its relationship with the Chinese government, he is also considering asylum in a third country.”

However, an official from the Incheon Coast Guard denied that Kwon had mentioned asylum or seeking refuge during questioning.

“Based on his known activities, he may be eligible for refugee status under Article 31 of the Refugee Convention and the doctrine of the state of necessity,” said Kim Joo-kwang, a lawyer at Advocates for Public Interest Law, a non-profit public interest organization that is providing legal assistance to Kwon.

The Refugee Convention stipulates that refugees should not be punished for entering countries illegally.

The jet ski that Kwon arrived in Korea on. (courtesy of the Incheon Coast Guard Station)
The jet ski that Kwon arrived in Korea on. (courtesy of the Incheon Coast Guard Station)

The Coast Guard revealed on Sunday that they had apprehended a Chinese national suspected of attempting to sneak into the country on a jet ski in the waters near Incheon. Their investigation revealed that Kwon had departed from Shandong Province in western China at around 7 am on Aug. 16 aboard a 1800cc jet ski.

Using only a compass and a telescope to navigate across more than 300 kilometers (186 miles) of open water, Kwon became stranded in a mud flat near Incheon Port that night, and called the fire department to rescue him at 9:33 pm. He was rescued by the Coast Guard at 10:28 pm.

On Tuesday, the Coast Guard handed Kwon over to Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office for suspicion of breaking the Immigration Act.

By Ko Byung-chan, staff reporter; Lee Seung-wook, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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