[EDITORIALS]China’s treatment of defectorsIt has been learned that China has repatriated about 70 North Korean refugees to North Korea. Chinese authorities arrested the refugees last month. Although there has been no official confirmation, the possibilities are said to be high that the reports are correct. The incident has made China’s earlier vows to crack down on North Korean refugees a reality.
It is natural that the Chinese do not view break-ins into diplomatic premises in China by North Korean refugees in a pleasant light. The issue is one of human rights and the spotlight could linger on China. Furthermore, China has to consider its alliance with North Korea in setting out its position. But still, arresting and repatriating North Korean refugees in a blitz operation should not have happened on humanitarian grounds alone. China cannot avoid blame for violating internationally accepted norms for human rights.
The Chinese government’s hard-line stance toward North Korean refugees could benefit the Chinese government, but Beijing should know that the effect will be short-lived and could, in the longer run, become a factor that puts China in more awkward positions.
North Korean refugees will continue to pour into China. They are mostly people who cannot bear hunger and oppression by the North Korean regime any more. These people should be granted refugee status under United Nations rules. Hence, even if China continues to use strong measures, North Korean refugees will continue to try to enter embassies and consulates if they think that is the best way to survive.
If North Korean refugees are continually sent back to North Korea, China is surely to gain a reputation in the international community as a country that abuses human rights. This will become a negative factor for China, which is looking forward to hosting the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. China has to reconsider its hard-line policy regarding North Korean refugees.
Our government needs to come up with a more active response to Beijing’s actions, including a plan through which China could grant refugee status to North Korean defectors. Every year, the United States has been urging China through a report on human rights and democratic support activities “to adhere to its duty as a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 protocol that prohibits repatriation of refugees.” The Korean government should cooperate with those efforts.