Two South Koreans are suing the Chinese government over smog blowing in from China, according to the Yonhap News Agency.

Environmentalist Choi Yul and attorney Ahn Kyung-jae filed the lawsuit against the Chinese and Korean governments in Seoul on Wednesday along with five other interested parties. They are seeking the equivalent of HK$143,611 for physical and mental damage caused by increasing instances of smog blowing in from China.

“As a member of the international community, China has the obligation to control pollutants at an acceptable level,” they said in the petition.

seoul smog
A view of Seoul blanketed in smog. Photo: Wikicommons.

On its part, the Korean government failed to accurately assess the source of fine particles in the air, failing in its duty to protect citizens’ health and safety, they said.

Fine particulate matter can cause health risks if inhaled. Chronic exposure to particles may increase risks of developing heart and lung diseases as well as lung cancer, according to the World Health Organisation.

The plaintiffs submitted medical records showing that Ahn was diagnosed with asthma on Tuesday, according to Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo.

They said that the lawsuit’s purpose was to induce the two governments to reduce toxic haze and that the financial compensation was merely symbolic.

“The purpose of this suit is to find out the cause of fine dust and to set a milestone for the two countries to lead Asia in the new era based on mutual efforts,” they said in the petition.

Previously, foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying was asked about neighbouring countries’ displeasure that smog is spreading to their countries and whether the Chinese government would consider compensating those affected. In response, she said that compensation was an “interesting” idea and said that air pollution was not an issue to dodge.

Hua Chunying
Photo: Global Daily News YouTube screenshot.

“As for whether it is China’s air pollution that’s affecting other countries, this requires scientific and professional research – I suggest you go to China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection to directly understand the issue.”

She added that the Ministry of Environmental Protection maintains close communication with other countries and that the government is willing to strengthen cooperation with other countries to promote environmental protection and governance.

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.