SEOUL — A man believed to be a Chinese rights activist has been arrested in South Korea after an apparent attempt to flee there on a jet ski.
The country’s coast guard said the man had traveled about 300km (186 miles) across the Yellow Sea using binoculars and a compass, but then got stuck.
Local reports named him as Kwon Pyong, a critic of President Xi Jinping, but his identity has not been verified. The Chinese embassy in Seoul declined to comment.
In recent years, Beijing has increased its use of exit bans at airports and other legal border crossings in order to block activists from leaving Chinese territory.
Many pro-Beijing countries in south-east Asia will no longer harbor asylum seekers, adding to the difficulties faced by dissidents hoping to flee.
Last month, the noted Chinese human rights lawyer Lu Siwei was captured in Laos and returned to China before he was able to join his wife and children in the United States.
But jet skiing across choppy waters to South Korea is perhaps one of the more extreme escape attempts seen in modern times.
South Korea’s coast guard said the man, wearing a life jacket and helmet, was towing five barrels of fuel from Shandong province behind the 1800cc machine.
“He refilled the petrol on the ride and dumped the empty barrels into the sea,” it explained, adding that he got into trouble near a cruise terminal off the western port of Incheon and called for help.
The coast guard did not identify the man, but said he was detained last Wednesday for attempting “to smuggle himself” into the city.
There is no suspicion that he could be a spy. South Korea-based campaigner Lee Dae-seon, from non-profit organization Dialogue China, told the AFP news agency on Tuesday that Kwon, 35, was the escapee.
Kwon has spent time in prison in China for publicly criticizing President Xi.
It is highly likely that he would have experienced problems trying to leave the country by regular travel routes in order to claim asylum, and he is likely to have been subject to an exit ban stopping him from departing China legally.
Lee said: “While [Kwon’s] means of entry into South Korea in violation of the law was wrong, surveillance of the Chinese authorities and political persecution of Kwon since 2016 are behind his life-risking crossing into South Korea.”
He added that Kwon was now considering whether to apply for refugee status in South Korea — which only grants a handful of requests each year — or a third country. — BBC