[EDITORIALS]China has set a precedent

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[EDITORIALS]China has set a precedent

Three North Koreans seeking to be sent to Seoul entered the South Korean Consulate in Beijing last week. The recent flood of North Korean asylum-seekers rushing into its foreign diplomatic compounds, asking for asylum, has made China's diplomatic position awkward, to say the least. Should China adopt a hard-line position towards the North Koreans, whom it does not classify as refugees but as "illegal economic migrants," its international image would be seriously compromised. However, China has traditional, though often uneasy, ties with the Stalinist regime of North Korea.

China's situation concerning the asylum -seekers, with South Korea on one side and North Korea on the other, is uncomfortable, but unavoidable. Last week's incident is undoubtedly even more perplexing for China because the North Koreans chose to head directly for South Korean protection and not that of another country. However, we sincerely hope that China is consistent in its treatment of North Korean defectors, extending to this group of three the same treatment given to previous defectors, that is, allowing them to leave for Seoul by way of a third country.

China's only fault in this matter is that it shares borders with a poverty-stricken and desperate country. Had there been no previous instances of North Koreans hopping into foreign embassies, perhaps China and South Korea could have solved this situation quietly between themselves. The eyes of the international human rights watchers have been riveted on the issue of North Korean asylum-seekers in China since March, when 25 North Koreans rushed past Chinese guards into the Spanish Embassy in Beijing, asking to be sent to Seoul.

China cannot avoid its duty to follow the universal morals of civilized society. In fact, the Chinese vice premier, Qian Qichen, declared last week that China's policy is to treat the North Korean defectors well. China has proven its diplomatic flexibility and we applaud its willingness to cooperate under humanitarian principles. China itself should want to affirm its position once and for all. What better opportunity than this?
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