[EDITORIALS]Asylum seekers a stern test

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[EDITORIALS]Asylum seekers a stern test

Chinese policemen's interdiction of North Korean family members who attempted to seek asylum at the Japanese consulate in Shenyang is escalating into a diplomatic row between China and Japan. Japan has demanded that China hand over five alleged North Korean asylum seekers, condemning the violation of international treaties by the Chinese police. China has retorted, through a government spokesman, that "Japanese consulate staff allowed police to enter the compound to seize the five, and later thanked the police."

The incident involving the human rights of North Korean defectors has became a diplomatic crisis involving the national pride of Asia's two leading nations. We are not in the position to decide which side is telling the truth. The remarks made by witnesses, photos and videotape of the scene reveal part of the truth.

First of all, Japanese officials behaved as by-standers when the North Korean women defectors struggled fiercely against the Chinese guards who dragged them out of the consulate compound. The video footage taken on the scene shows a Japanese staff member picking up the Chinese guards' caps and handing them over to them. Between the attitude of its diplomatic staff in Shenyang and the strong protest lodged by the Japanese government, what are the principles and criteria Japan applies?

Japan, an economic superpower, has boasted that it is an advanced country that cannot be compared with China in terms of democratic principles and respect for human rights. But the incident casts suspicions on Japanese pride and propaganda. Japan must recognize the damage its national pride has suffered in the course of this incident. It should clarify what happened at the consulate and try to keep democratic principles and human rights faithfully in handling the remaining issues surrounding this incident.

China must also give first priority to protecting the human rights of the defectors -- it should not repatriate them by force to the North, nor should it obstruct their travel to a third country.

Japan and China must understand that the North Korean defector issue is not a wrangling over diplomatic pride, but a protection of the human rights of asylum seekers, which needs swift settlement. And the Korean government must speak boldly in their defense.
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