[EDITORIALS]Handle this issue with careNorth Koreans are taking refuge at foreign consulates in Beijing as transit points in their defection to South Korea. The issue is of central interest in the international comuuniy, but at the same time, it is triggering diplomatic conflicts among nations. One example is how Chinese police officers ignored the immunity of the Japanese consulate in Shenyang in a raid in which they dragged out two of the five family members who entered the consulate compound.
Japan has the right to protest the intrusion of the Chinese police officers as a violation of international law and to strongly request that all members of the family be afforded their original status. China is having a hard time juggling the humanitarian issue of asylum seekers and the nation's relationship with North Korea. The two countries remain close allies, and China is bound by a bilateral border treaty to repatriate North Koreans on the run. Such ties increase the difficulty of quick recognition for these people as fleeing political and economic persecution. However, as the widening stream of North Korean defectors suggests, the Chinese would do well to accept the fact that more will follow.
A growing number of international non-governmental organizations are enlarging a network to help North Koreans seeking aslyum in the South. The Chinese government should ask if it wants to be constantly questioned by the international community on its commitment to humanitarianism and human rights.
As for the South Korean government, turning the issue of North Korean aslyum seekers into a hot diplomatic potato would not be in the best interest of the nation as far as ties with Beijing are concerned. Seoul should seek a multifaceted approach, engaging other countries.
International organizations should take care not to unnecessarily provoke the Chinese, who are sensitive to the issue of losing face. They should also be prudent in raising this issue before the world and in helping North Korean aslyum seekers gain entry into foreign consulates. Putting the Chinese in a position where they will not be able to help the North Koreans even if they wanted to would increase the plight of North Korean aslyum seekers.
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