[EDITORIALS]Foreign Ministry Flubs a Basic Task

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[EDITORIALS]Foreign Ministry Flubs a Basic Task

What on earth is Korea's Foreign Ministry doing? The ministry only belatedly began preparing measures to counter plans by Russia and Japan to ban third countries from fishing in waters off the Southern Kuril Islands. Then it made a fool of itself by saying it knew nothing in advance about the execution of a Korean in China although the Chinese government had notified the Korean mission there. The government should thoroughly examine this case to punish the officials who concealed the truth. It should reform its handling of consular affairs.

The Foreign Ministry insisted that it did not know of the execution and that Beijing did not meet its responsibilities under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations after Chinese authorities arrested four Korean citizens, including the man who was executed, on suspicion of drug dealing in 1997. Only after public criticism of the government for neglecting the safety of its citizens did the government began to complain, lodging a formal protest with Beijing and quickly delegating an inspector to the Korean consular office in Shenyang in order to find out the truth.

Though Beijing announced that it had notified the consulate of the arrests in September 1997, the date of the first trial in January 1999 and the final decision on the death penalty on Sept. 25, 2001, the government acknowledged only that Beijing had notified it of the arrest. Seoul asserted that China lied in its assertions that it had made the proper notifications. Although Beijing said it hoped Korea would conduct a thorough investigation into the case and stop criticizing China for something it handled properly, Seoul doggedly insists that the Chinese government is in the wrong.

The Foreign Ministry is inefficient and irresponsible. The government has damaged its own standing and its ability to call China to account for alleged violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It is natural that Korean diplomats are blamed for concentrating on karaoke and golf while neglecting the protection of Korean citizens.

Despite Seoul's errors, China also has some responsibility in the matter. According to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, if a state arrests a citizen of a foreign country, the state is required to notify that fact to the foreign government as soon as possible. If any arrested person dies, the state is required to immediately notify the person's government. Although one Korean suspect died of illness last November, Beijing notified the death to Seoul only seven months later. China had no response to the allegation of one of the men arrested that he had requested an interview with the Korean consul while in jail and had been tortured by Chinese authorities. That man's allegations may not be baseless, considering that China's Prime Minister Zhu Rongji has recently raised the infringement of human rights in his nation as an issue. If the torture charges are true, the violation of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment can be raised. Beijing should take proper measures, after examining thoroughly those alleged cruel acts.

Korea and China should settle the case reasonably to prevent recurrences, considering that 2 million persons from both countries travel between China and Korea every year. One good step might be to raise the status of the Korean consular office in Shenyang to that of a full consulate covering affairs in China's northeast.
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