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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Belgium urgently recalls envoy in Seoul after wife’s second fight

Belgian Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmès is recalling the country’s ambassador to Seoul “without further delay” after his wife’s fights have become big news in South Korea for the second time in four months.

Belgium had already officially recalled Ambassador Peter Lescouhier in May after CCTV footage of his wife slapping a shopkeeper triggered a national scandal in Korea in April.

Rather than keeping her fists to herself until her husband’s curtailed mandate ended later this month, however, his wife Xiang Xueqiu made news again this week, with South Korea’s Yonhap news agency citing the police that she had come to blows with a street cleaner on Monday, after the cleaner’s brush accidentally touched her.

In a request for comment on Wednesday, the Belgian foreign ministry said the circumstances of the incident “remain unclear.” Yonhap reported that when police arrived on the scene on Monday, neither Xiang nor the cleaner wanted to take the matter further.

However, because of the second altercation, Wilmès has indicated the ambassador should “return to Belgium without further delay.” Wilmès cited the “responsibility of an ambassador to the host country and given our desire to maintain excellent relations with the Republic of Korea.”

After the first incident, Wilmès said Lescouhier could no longer “perform his function in a serene manner” and that it was in the interest of bilateral relations between Belgium and South Korea to summon him back to Brussels. She also waived diplomatic immunity for his wife so that she could be prosecuted in South Korea if necessary. Korean police ultimately didn’t press charges at the request of the woman who had been slapped.

The Belgian embassy in Seoul issued an apology over the first incident on its Facebook page, which partly fueled more outrage, as angered Koreans insisted the Belgian ambassador should have delivered his apology in person instead of in an online post. The latest update on the embassy’s Facebook page, about the history of the Belgian flag, attracted a peculiarly large number of angry emoticons, and the embassy appeared to have stopped users from leaving comments under the post.

Belgium and Korea are celebrating 120 years of diplomatic bilateral relations this year. Diplomatic ties are generally cordial, with Belgium being one of the countries that sent troops to fight in the 1950-1953 Korean War.

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