If China wants to be a G-2 stateThe Chinese government operates Confucius Institutes around the world to enhance its national image and promote Chinese language and culture. The underlying intention is to highlight that it is one of the two superpowers along with the United States. In other words, China hopes to project an image that it is the origin of the Confucian culture and civilization that pursues a human way and social harmony, not a threat pursuing regional hegemony under the rule of the Communist Party.
A statue of Confucius stands in front of the newly renovated National Museum of China in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. His hometown of Qufu in Shandong Province celebrates his legacy with a temple, a family residence and his tomb, preserved and maintained by the government.
Confucius was a philosopher and sage who advocated the ways of humanity for the ideal governance and philosophy of human respect during the Warring States Period. While the Chinese Communist Party led by Mao Zedong seized power through a revolution, Confucian philosophy was condemned as authoritarian, and during the craze of the Cultural Revolution, Confucius was undervalued. Nevertheless, the deep-rooted Confucian culture continues to prevail in the 21st century.
The question is whether China is actually perceived as a civilized nation that respects humanity and life. Recently, nine young North Korean defectors were taken by North Korean agents in Laos just before fleeing to South Korea. The young defectors were forcibly repatriated to the North, via China. Among them was a 15-year-old girl who had been sold and sexually harassed before barely escaping. A 23-year-old defector grew up in an orphanage and lost his toes to frostbite while trying to escape from the North three times.
The Republic of Korea is responsible for protecting the North Korean defectors as its citizens under the Constitution, and the Laos government is also internationally obliged to give them refugee status and offer a choice for survival. However, Seoul’s response was too late, and the Laos government deported them.
If Beijing gave tacit approval or condoned the repatriation of the defectors, they also have due responsibility for the incident. North Korea claims that they dodged Chinese public authority by helping them get a “transit visa.” However, it is hard to understand that these young defectors were moved across the Chinese territory without getting checked or stopped by the Chinese security police authorities, especially when they transferred at Kunming and Beijing while traveling from Laos to Pyongyang.
When the North Korean defectors’ repatriation became an issue in the spring of 2012, Beijing claimed that they were not “refugees” under the United Nations Refugee Convention but were “illegal border crossers.” They made a peculiar argument where openly pressuring China would make a smooth resolution difficult. The defection route via Laos was created because China had stuck with the repatriation policy despite repeated protests and objections from the South Korean government.
As a responsible civilized member of the international community, China has a responsibility and obligation to actively protect the human rights of the North Korean defectors based on morality and respect for humanity. Now, more than 500 million Chinese netizens speak of reason and conscience to display the dignity suitable for a civilized nation. In the first summit meeting between President Park Geun-hye and her Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping later this month, the defector issue must be addressed as a main concern.
The image of a civilized nation taught at the Confucius Institute and the inhumane repatriation of the North Korean defectors can never coexist. If Confucius were alive today, what would he say about the forced repatriation of North Korean defectors?
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is a chair professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and executive president of the Asia Future Institute.
By Park Jin