Chinese Dissident Planned Jet Ski Escape for Years

Kwon Pyong told friends of his plan to reach South Korea as early as 2019
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 25, 2023 2:45 PM CDT
Chinese Dissident Planned Jet Ski Escape for Years
A view of the Yellow Sea from Incheon's Jangbongdo island.   (Getty Images / pradis)

The man who fled from China to South Korea on a jet ski last week reportedly planned his escape for years. A friend in the US tells the New York Times that Kwon Pyong, a 35-year-old human rights activist critical of Chinese President Xi Jinping, "felt depressed living in China due to the autocracy and lack of freedom of speech" and plotted to escape prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Matt Ran, a Chinese-born engineer who met Kwon online, says the details of his Aug. 16 journey across nearly 200 miles of ocean from China's Shandong Peninsula to the South Korean port of Incheon on a jet ski towing barrels of fuel match plans Kwon shared with him prior to 2020.

Ran says Kwon, who earned an aerospace engineering degree from Iowa State University in 2014, "cared much about China's democratization" and "wanted to be a great entrepreneur." His bio on X (formerly Twitter) describes him as a "perpetual student, citizen, dedicated to overturning communism," per the Times. He returned to China after college and joined Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests in 2014, per the New York Post. He ran afoul of China's ruling Communist Party two years later with a tweeted photo of himself wearing a shirt that referred to Xi as "Xitler." It was one of more than 70 anti-government images, video, and comments Kwon allegedly posted, leading to a charge of inciting subversion, per the Times.

Kwon, who is of Korean descent and uses a Korean name opposed to his Chinese one (Quan Ping), served 18 months in prison before his release in March 2018. He was then barred from leaving China as authorities continued to watch him, according to human rights activist Lee Dae-seon. Lee says Kwon first contacted him about seeking asylum in South Korea in 2019. After years of silence, he says Kwon reached out again this month, saying he was coming to South Korea, per the Times. "I didn't know how he was going to come," Lee says, per CNN. Kwon, from the Chinese city of Yanbian, has applied for asylum in South Korea, which grants fewer than 200 of 10,000-plus requests it receives each year. (More China stories.)

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