Note to Korean courts: I wouldn’t expect Japanese courts to be especially cooperative in the future if you can’t even bring yourself to extradite a serial arsonist:

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.

Korean prosecutors—who, after all, had once mulled seeking the extradition of the asshat who defaced the Comfort Woman memorial in Seoul—had sought to extradite Liu to Japan, much to their credit. Seoul High Court, however, saw things differently. Very differently:

“We cannot approve the extradition of Liu to Japan because his crime was a political crime,” the court said in a statement yesterday. “In other words, Liu committed a crime with the aim to protest against [Japan’s] political order. And in a case where a political criminal makes an escape to another country [Korea], the criminal can be protected.”

Don’t be surprised if Japanese rightwing nutjobs start showing up to lob firebombs at the Comfort Women museum, then running back to Japan where the courts will protect them against punishment for their “political act.”

China’s also pleased:

Tokyo requested Seoul hand over Liu after he is released based on a bilateral treaty signed in 2002 regarding criminal transfers, while Beijing appealed to Seoul that Liu be sent back home based on a “humanitarian approach.”

It also requested that Korea consider Liu a political prisoner – saying his crimes were a political reaction to Japan’s misdeeds.

To be fair, if there’s a country that would recognize a political prisoner when it saw one, it’s China.

Meanwhile, the Seoul Shinmun ran some interesting poll data on Korea—Japan relations, collected in conjunction with Japan’s Tokyo Shimbun. For starters, only 23.6% of Koreans felt a sense of closeness to Japan, while 50.1% of Japanese felt a sense of closeness to Korea. Both numbers have come down a few percentage points since a 2005 poll.

Younger Koreans and younger Japanese felt closer to one another’s countries than did older Koreans and Japanese. Slight more Korean women than men felt a sense of closeness for Japan (24.2% to 22.9%), while in Japan, many more women than men felt a sense of closeness to Korea (55.8% to 44.1%).

Interestingly, only 37% of Koreans said Korea needs Japan, while 52.6% of Japanese said Japan needs Korea. In 2005, 53.5% of Koreans said Korea needs Japan, while the Japanese number fell of by less than 2 percentage points.

Meanwhile, nine out of 10 Koreans thought Japan doesn’t reflect on its past, while 63.4% of Japanese can’t understand why Koreans think Japan doesn’t apologize for its past.

77.1% of Koreans think the Japanese government should back down on its claims to Dokdo, while 47.0% of Japanese think the problem should be solved at the ICJ, and 37.4% think both countries should exercise joint sovereignty over the islets.

Finally, only 8.7% of Koreans and 14.6% of Japanese through bilateral ties were improving; 74.3% and 68.7%, respectively, thought they were deteriorating. This was a huge drop-off from 2005, when 44.1% of Koreans and 51.2% of Japanese thought ties were improving.