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South Korea's Lee Jun-seok defends democracy before Chinese ambassador

Lee Jun-Seok, chairman of South Korea's main opposition People Power Party, met with Chinese Ambassador to Seoul Xing Haiming Monday. File Photo by Kim Min-hee/EPA-EFE
Lee Jun-Seok, chairman of South Korea's main opposition People Power Party, met with Chinese Ambassador to Seoul Xing Haiming Monday. File Photo by Kim Min-hee/EPA-EFE

July 12 (UPI) -- South Korea's new opposition leader met with China's top diplomat to Seoul Monday when he addressed pro-democracy movements in Hong Kong and the need for a "peaceful solution."

Lee Jun-seok, 36, said he told Ambassador Xing Haiming at the National Assembly in Seoul that South Korea's younger generation "expects a peaceful solution in Hong Kong," Newsis reported.

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Lee, who was elected leader of the conservative People Power Party in June, has said he participated in the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong in 2019.

The Harvard-educated South Korean politician said the ambassador appeared to agree with the idea.

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Ahead of his meeting with Xing, Lee said in an interview with Bloomberg that South Korea must "fight against the enemies of democracy."

Lee said Monday that his comments referred to a need for South Korea to take a principled stand against crackdowns, including in China, according to Newsis.

"The Hong Kong pro-democracy movement is a struggle for [Hong Kong's] autonomy and democracy, so if there are people who stand in the way, the Korean government and the people of the Republic of Korea have to stand up against those who want to harm it," Lee told reporters.

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"It is a principle that applies equally everywhere, be it Hong Kong or Myanmar."

Lee's comments to the Chinese ambassador are unprecedented. The administration of President Moon Jae-in has mostly maintained a radio silence about violent crackdowns in the Asian financial center. The South Korean government has never publicly summoned Xing to condemn rights abuses.

China's past actions, including informal sanctions against South Korea after Seoul deployed the U.S. THAAD missile defense system in 2016, may have influenced government decisions. According to Bloomberg, South Korea did not sign a joint statement endorsed by the United States and other democracies that condemned the suppression of press freedoms in Hong Kong.

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Beijing's foreign ministry said in March Washington was "interfering" in Hong Kong affairs.

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