South Korea issues safety warning ahead of football match in China

Supporters urged to ‘cheer in orderly fashion’ as tensions rise over anti-missile system

South Korea’s players take part in a training session for World Cup qualifier against China on Thursday. South Korea’s embassy in Beijing has issued a safety warning to fans planning to attend the match amid heightening tensions between the two countries. Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty Images

South Korea's embassy in Beijing has issued a safety warning to football fans planning to attend this week's World Cup qualifier against China, amid a wave of anti-Korean sentiment over the deployment of a US anti-missile defence battery.

The embassy's consular department delivered the message on Monday, the Yonhap news agency reported, three days before South Korea face China in Changsha, capital of Hunan province in south central China.

Relations between China and South Korea have slumped since Seoul said it would install the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) system to protect it against what it sees as growing aggression from its bitter rival North Korea.

China, which borders North Korea and is an ally, considers the installation a tactical move to give the US the ability to knock out Chinese missiles in the event of conflict.


Beijing has responded by in effect boycotting duty free shops, hotels and other businesses belonging to the Lotte conglomerate, the commercial group that sold the golf course to the South Korean government on which the system is to be installed.

The backlash has also hit tourism as package operators have been required to avoid South Korea.

The South Korean embassy told its nationals residing in China, or travelling there for the game, to take extra caution and avoid inflaming passions.

“South Koreans staying in or visiting China must ensure they cheer on the national team in as orderly a fashion as possible,” the message ran. “Please take extra caution not to cause trouble with the Chinese people with unnecessary words or actions.”

Football can be a focal point for anti-foreigner sentiment in China. In 2004, at a time of tension between China and Japan, angry Chinese football fans attacked a Japanese diplomat attending the final of the Asian Cup, when Japan beat China 3-1. Demonstrators fought with police and burned Japanese flags.

The Korean Football Association has asked match organisers to beef up security, although players say they aren't worried about competing before a hostile crowd at the 55,000-seat Helong stadium, Yonhap reported.

Unification ministry

Separately, South Korea’s unification ministry, which deals with North Korean issues, said it had asked Pyongyang to provide safety guarantees for its players ahead of next month’s AFC Women’s Asian Cup qualifier in the North Korean capital.

The government in South Korea must sign off on the match because North Korea and South Korea are still technically at war since the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in truce but no official armistice.

“The government has asked North Korea to provide written assurances for the safety of South Korean football players,” Yonhap reported.

North Korea has responded to rising tensions on the peninsula with its usual defiance. The country's main propaganda outlet Uriminzokkiri TV showed images of a US aircraft carrier engulfed in flames as a display of resolve to counter the ongoing joint Seoul-Washington military drills. The 170-second video clip features an image of what appears to be the USS Carl Vinson on fire after the ship is placed in superimposed cross hairs.

The US envoy on the North Korean nuclear issue, Joseph Yun, met some of the major presidential contenders in Seoul to discuss North Korea, the alliance and other pending diplomatic issues. The meetings came as the Trump administration was reportedly in the final stage of crafting its new North Korea approach, which is said to include sanctions.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing