[EDITORIALS]Cold shoulder for escapeeA South Korean abductee, Choi Wook-il, who escaped from North Korea after 31 years, received a cold reception from the Korean consulate in Shenyang, China when he called for help in returning to Korea. Employees at the consulate ping-ponged the man’s call around, saying, “It’s not my duty,” “Call the Korean government directly” and “How did you get this number?” Mr. Choi, did finally get a phone number from one of the consulate staff members, but when he called, that person said he would call back, which, eventually, was not done. That was it. Which country do these diplomats work for? Anger and lamentation rises.
This is not the first time a consulate has ignored a request for help. In 1998, a prisoner of war from during the Korean War fled North Korea and called the Korean Embassy in China, only to be denied aid by a female worker at the office. At the time, condemnation continued, eventually forcing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to officially apologize. The scandal about the abductee has started gathering more concern and the ministry apologized again through its Web page a few days ago. That is not enough, however. The conduct during the entire incident hints at how ministry officials consider Koreans.
One of the most important missions for the diplomacy of a country is that of protecting its own people. Foreign embassies are like fortresses to Koreans visiting or living abroad. How unkind the officials at Korean embassies and consulates are is well known. It has been like this for a long time.
Moreover, this time it was not just a tourist but an abductee who had escaped by himself, without any help from the government. Not helping him was obviously a delinquency. The Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Dae-jung administrations have great responsibilities. There are more than 1,000 prisoners of war, abductees and other South Koreans in North Korea. Despite requests from the families, the government has only considered how North Korea feels. The overseas embassies and consulates only did what the government already did.
The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs sends its staff anywhere to protect its country’s people. Mr. Koizumi, the former prime minister, went all the way to North Korea in 2002 to get apologies from the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, for kidnapping the Japanese.
It is the government’s responsibility and duty to put the abductee and POW issues foremost at the inter-Korean talks.