[EDITORIALS]Seoul needs to take on Beijing

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[EDITORIALS]Seoul needs to take on Beijing

Han Man-taek is a South Korean prisoner of war who had escaped into China from North Korea. Recently, the Chinese authorities arrested him and sent him back to the North. The repatriation is a sign of Beijing’s disregard for human rights and demonstrates Seoul’s lukewarm attitude and low-profile diplomacy.
When Mr. Han was taken into custody in late December, the South Korean Foreign Ministry acted irresponsibly. The ministry did nothing although the Chinese government said over and over for nearly a month that it was checking on what had happened to Mr. Han. Up until now, Beijing has been cooperative about turning over arrested defectors who were confirmed to be South Korean POWs. But, this time, China took a long time to confirm the identification, a process that usually requires only a few days.
Seoul should have known that something was wrong and come up with an alternative approach. But the Foreign Ministry and the diplomatic missions in China did nothing. They did not even know when Mr. Han was actually sent back to the North.
Reluctantly, Seoul has just lodged a complaint with Beijing, acting as if it had done everything it could. Who will trust this country and shoulder a rifle to defend it?
It is the state’s first responsibility to protect its citizens. The state’s responsibility for a fallen soldier in war is unlimited. The United States does everything to bring back remains of its fallen soldiers even after decades and holds lavish funerals for them in order to heighten patriotism.
That makes it difficult to compare how our government handles similar matters. A South Korean POW had been at risk of being sent back to North Korea because Seoul failed to check the list of fallen soldiers during the Korean War. Now, Seoul has driven a 72-year-old POW into the jaws of death. Does the foreign minister have anything to say?
China should remember that the international community will criticize its inhumane action. China sent back Mr. Han only four days after his arrest, but informed Seoul 26 days after the repatriation was made. Meanwhile, China has been lying that it was checking. Seoul must abandon “silent diplomacy,” in hopes that Beijing will make favorable decisions. Why can’t Seoul speak up? South Korea must show firm determination to China that some things can never be conceded.
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