[EDITORIALS]Defectors change courseSeven North Korean defectors held demonstrations Monday at the gates of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They demanded that the Chinese government grant them refugee status. They were arrested by the Chinese police on the scene and were put under investigation. We understand the difficulties the Chinese government faces in deciding the fate of the North Koreans. In view of recent Chinese decisions to allow North Koreans who had sought asylum at foreign missions in Beijing to leave the country, we hope the Chinese government will not repatriate this group to North Korea.
This demonstration showed that the defectors were organized and that they wanted to accomplish their goal through official channels. The nature and scope of the incident is apparently different from previous defector cases. First of all, the demonstration was planned by a North Korean defectors' organization called "Youth League of North Korean Defectors for Freedom." A new development, which should be recognized as such, is that the defectors formed their own organization and launched an open struggle to settle their uneasy legal status. It is unusual that seven defectors volunteered to stage "illegal demonstrations," risking arrest and subsequent punishment in order to submit the refugee status applications.
Moreover, there are indications that the incident was supported by some nongovernmental organizations and was planned and staged with keen political calculations. When they demonstrated at the ministry's northern and eastern gates with placards, saying "Allow Refugee Status!" and "Give Me Freedom or Give Me Death!" U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was visiting there. It was a bold venture aimed at internationalizing the North Korean defector issue.
This is fundamentally different from sending defectors to the South by helping them infiltrate foreign embassies. Regardless of the Chinese decision, similar incidents have been announced. China and both Koreas need to make common efforts to solve this problem.