This Week in Asia

Footage of Belgian ambassador's wife slapping shopkeeper outrages South Koreans

Websites have been flooded with calls for Ambassador Peter Lescouhier and his wife Xiang Xueqiu to leave the country over the incident at a clothes shop in Seoul on April 9, which has sparked a police investigation.

The video footage, released by the shopkeeper, shows Xiang pulling an employee around by the arm and hitting her on the back of her head. When the shopkeeper steps between the two to calm them down, Xiang slaps her in the face.

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The 63-year-old Xiang's blow left the shopkeeper, 33, with a swollen face and a bloodshot eye.

The shopkeeper said she had received no apology from Xiang and was releasing the footage to prevent similar incidents occurring to other shopkeepers.

Moments before the altercation, Xiang had been browsing in the shop and had left without buying anything. One of the shop's employees mistakenly thought Xiang had walked out without paying as her jacket looked similar to one being sold at the shop and she pursued Xiang. When the worker realised her mistake she apologised, but the ambassador's wife came back into the shop and became angry.

The shopkeeper said that police later told her that as Xiang was an ambassador's wife "she could get away with it because of diplomatic immunity".

Diplomats and their family members are usually not subject to prosecution under the laws of their host country.

"We are investigating the allegation, but can't confirm the details or the circumstances because the investigation is ongoing," an official at Yongsan Police Station told The Korea Times.

Many South Koreans took to social media to vent their anger at the footage, some in posts highlighting Xiang's Chinese ancestry (she is thought to have been born in Beijing), reflecting souring public perceptions of China and ethnic Chinese in South Korea. Others demanded the ambassador be recalled.

"What would have happened if the Korean ambassador's wife had hit a Belgian shopkeeper in the face in Belgium?" commented one.

"Ask the Belgian government to call the ambassador back and pay a large amount of compensation. If we just let this case pass, other countries will look down on us!"

Ambassador Lescouhier studied at Fudan and Nanjing Universities in the 1980s and served at the Belgian Embassy in Beijing between 1991 and 1997, according to The Korea Post. He was posted to Seoul in 2018 and his wife came to the country in the same year.

There has been no official response from the Belgian Embassy in Seoul.

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

Copyright (c) 2021. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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