SEOUL, South Korea -- A South Korean court sided with China on Thursday in a fight between Beijing and Tokyo over the custody of a Chinese man accused of an arson attack at the Yasukuni Shrine for Japan's war dead.
The man, Liu Qiang, 38, completed a 10-month prison term in South Korea in November after hurling four gasoline bombs at the Japanese Embassy in central Seoul. His attack in January last year left burn marks on the embassy wall but hurt no one.
Mr. Liu had told South Korean police that his late maternal grandmother, a Korean, was one of Asia's "comfort women," who were forced into sexual slavery for Japan's Imperial Army during World War II. He said that he attacked the Japanese Embassy to show his anger at Tokyo's refusal to apologize and compensate properly for the wrongs done against the women.
Even before Mr. Liu was released from a South Korean prison, Tokyo and Beijing had filed competing requests for his extradition.
During the investigation by the South Korean police, Mr. Liu said he carried out an arson attack that burned the main wooden gate of the shrine in Tokyo in December 2011. The shrine, which commemorates several Japanese war criminals from World War II, as well as the common war dead, is seen by many Koreans and Chinese as a symbol of Japan's past aggression, and Japanese politicians' frequent visits there have prompted anti-Japanese emotions in the neighboring countries.
During his extradition hearings at the Seoul High Court in recent weeks, Mr. Liu argued that his attack at the shrine should be treated as a political crime and that he would not be given a fair trial in Japan. His lawyers, reportedly hired by the Chinese government, cited a provision at the South Korea-Japan extradition treaty that allowed each country not to extradite people accused of political crimes.
South Korean prosecutors, who sought his extradition to Japan, argued that Japan sought Mr. Liu's custody to punish him not for his political opinion but for arson.
On Thursday, the presiding justice, Hwang Han-sik, rejected the prosecutors' request, opening the door for Mr. Liu to leave for China.
In his verdict, Mr. Hwang said a decision to extradite Mr. Liu to Japan for "his political crime would be tantamount to denying the political order and Constitutional ideas of South Korea, as well as the universal values of most of the civilized nations."
He also said the Yasukuni Shrine carried some "political symbolism" even if it was listed as a religious property in Japan.
Mr. Liu's extradition trial came amid rising concern in South Korea over a growing political power of right-wing nationalists in Japan, as demonstrated by Shinzo Abe's return as prime minister.
During Mr. Liu's hearings, right-wing South Korean activists demonstrated outside the courthouse, opposing his extradition to Japan and calling for South Korea to instead give him an "award."
At his trial, Mr. Liu appealed to the South Korean judge "to understand, as a fellow Korean who shares the same blood, the anger my grandmother and I felt." He linked his attack at the shrine to the acts of some South Korean nationalist activists who have in recent years cut their fingertips to show anger at some Japanese politicians' annual visits to the shrine.
The "comfort women" remain the most emotional issue left unresolved from Japan's often brutal colonial rule of Korea from 1910 until 1945. Historians say that about 200,000 women from Korea, China, the Philippines and other countries were drafted to work in Japanese Army brothels.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.