[EDITORIALS]China's tough stanceThe latest news from China is that while the country steps up on crackdowns of nongovermental organizations helping North Korean defectors, four missionaries -- three Koreans and one American -- are expected to face tough legal prosecution. This is startling news, for it comes on the heels of a difficult but satisfying resolution between Beijing and Seoul on the fate of the 26 North Korean defectors. Cheon Gi-won, a Protestant missionary, is expected to receive a maximum sentence of seven years after having been held in detention for long time. The other three have been detained for a few months.
We understand that Beijing's shift toward the prosecution of missionaries stems from the conflict brewing between the Chinese police and the organizations that have been supporting the defectors with "event-like defections" where small and large groups stole into foreign compounds in Beijing. To date, China has tacitly tolerated the missionaries' act of helping North Korean defectors, issuing warnings or deportations only selectively. Beijing indeed was making an effort against its special environment where it recognizes only the freedom of religion but not evangelism, and the spreading popularity of Falun Gong was unnerving the communist Chinese government. We also understand that the concerned missionaries have violated Chinese laws. Mr. Cheon was arrested and released twice before he was placed in long-term detention.
But it is far from desirable to treat severly and hold for long periods religious activists working for humanitarian causes. There follows a hefty international responsibility regarding the defector issue for China to go it alone and draw unilaterally from its domestic laws. Such a hard-line position will not benefit the image of China, a recent member to the World Trade Organization and the host of the 2008 Olympics.
The other side of the humanitarian issue of the defectors is a complex mix of diplomatic and political interests involving South Korea, North Korea, China and surrounding nations. Instead of protesting excessive intervention of humanitarian issues, China should work to find an international consensus so that the issue will not encumber future relations between the two countries.