Japan-China Row Over Korean Defectors Simmers

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - Japan is sending a senior envoy to Beijing to demand the handover of five North Koreans who were arrested while trying to seek asylum at a Japanese Consulate in northeastern China. The incident has threatened to sour relations between the two countries.

If the Chinese refuse to surrender the five, Tokyo hopes to persuade them to allow the asylum-seekers to go to a third country rather than send them back to North Korea, foreign ministry officials were quoted as saying.

The ministry earlier sent officials to investigate, and will shortly dispatch senior vice foreign minister Seiken Sugiura to fight for the release of the five.

Japan accused Chinese police of entering the consulate premises in Shenyang without permission, violating international conventions. Dramatic video footage showed policemen dragging away the resisting North Koreans.

Chinese officials claimed the policemen had been motivated only by the desire to protect the consulate from suspicious individuals. The five included two men, two women and a two-year-old girl.

Beijing also insisted consulate staff had given the police permission to enter and even thanked them for removing the North Koreans.

Although Japan denied this, its foreign ministry has come under strong criticism at home after the footage appeared to show consulate staff doing nothing to prevent the policemen from entering or forcibly removing the obviously distressed asylum-seekers from the grounds.

Desperate to escape their cash-strapped and repressive communist homeland, North Koreans have in recent months been targeting Western diplomatic missions in China hoping to be allowed eventually to reach South Korea or another democratic country.

At the weekend the Canadian Embassy in Beijing confirmed that two more North Korans had managed to gained access to the mission. A spokeswoman said Monday negotiations were underway with the Chinese authorities.

Three others are sheltering in the U.S. Consulate in Shenyang after scaling a wall last week, and negotiations about their fate continue.

Beijing is a traditional ally of neighboring North Korea, and obliged by treaty to repatriate any North Koreans it apprehends hiding out in China.

See Earlier Story:
Chinese Police Drag N. Korean Defectors Out Of Foreign Mission
(May 10, 2002)

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow