[INSIGHT]A warning, and a request, to China

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[INSIGHT]A warning, and a request, to China

Chinese police officers in Beijing raided the South Korean Embassy compound and forcibly dragged away North Korean asylum-seekers. In the process, the police physically attacked South Korean diplomats who were trying to stop them. The police force in any country stands for the authoritative and the conservative. It is not for the police to think about the fine points of international relations or political judgments.

The police in China, whose name in Chinese literally translates to "public security," are perhaps more security minded than their counterparts in other countries because China remains an anti-democratic socialist country. Beyond the police's role in this incident, however, is the fact that the Chinese Foreign Ministry is defending what happened at the Korean Embassy as justifiable. Even the Chinese Embassy in Seoul has been mobilized to join in advocating the Chinese side of the story. These exertions point to the conclusion that this incident was not merely an isolated deviation on the part of the Chinese police. This was the work of the Chinese government in its entirety. Three possible interpretations of this occurrence are being debated among South Koreans.

First, does the Chinese government have absolutely no consideration for any country, including South Korea, and choose to ignore for its own convenience international convention on the personal inviolability of consular officers and their compounds?

Second, does China commit such deplorable acts only against South Korea and a few other neighboring countries that it finds tractable? Is it out of regional hegemonism and arrogance that a country resorts to force against its neighbors only?

Third, is the issue of North Korean refugees of such importance that China should stop them at all costs?

Whether the truth might lie in any one of the three or in all of them combined, we Koreans are infuriated at what the Chinese government did. We also have a warning and a request to make to China. We are angry because the Chinese broke international conventions in their deliberate slighting of South Korea's sovereignty and human rights. The warning we have to make is not unrelated to our anger, but it is not being made from emotional motives. Our warning to China is that South Korea is no longer a small, peripheral country on the outskirts of China, but a civilized member of the globalized world, as is any other country on this planet.

The Chinese hegemony that had been exercised in Northeast Asia for thousands of years was based on the dichotomy of Sinocentrism and peripheralism. The Chinese gave names to the "barbarians" to their north, south, east and west, and treated them as such. They used two strategies -- keeping potentially threatening peripheral countries from getting strong by inciting them to compete with one another, and attacking countries nearer to home while forming alliances with countries farther away. Thus, China was able to expand its territory. After geographical expansion, the Chinese ruled over their newly gained land indirectly by teaching the people Chinese characters and the Chinese system of hierarchical government. At the beginning of the 20th century, after the demise of this Sinocentric system, China was ruined by the Western powers and Japan. The reason the whole world is praising China now is because it seems to have awakened, through market reforms, after a century of colonial invasion, war and backward communism.

What system of regime China prefers to rule its society with, what countries China would like to maintain closer ties with, are China's choice. However, China should not be mistaken about one thing. No neighboring country is now going to allow China to exercise its anachronistic and arrogant regional hegemony over it.

China's neighboring countries are no longer "barbarian states" but democratic and civilized countries that even exceed China in some ways. No longer will China be able to start fights among its neighbors in order to keep them in their places and to use its geographically distant neighbors to fight the nearer ones. The former barbarians of the north, south, east and west have now become democratic countries governed by pluralism and are ready to join hands in fighting against any hegemonic arrogance on the part of China.

Our request to China is that it at least let the North Koreans who have already entered diplomatic compounds go to any country that is willing to accept them. South Koreans have considered China a "friendly country close to the heart" ever since diplomatic ties were established in 1992. It is important to remember that this incident betrayed such emotions of the South Koreans.


The writer is the editor of Millennium-Emerge, a monthly magazine.

by Kang Wee-seuk

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