China Attempts Blackmail of Japan over NK Refugees

– North Korean refugees trapped 2 years in Japanese diplomatic missions in China
– China demands Japan stop accepting and protecting North Korean refugees.

On July 8, the Asahi Shimbun, a major Japanese newspaper, ran a feature by journalist Takuya Suzuki. According to this article, the Chinese government is demanding a written pledge from the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) that no Japanese diplomatic mission in China will ever again accept or protect North Korean refugees.

This revelation shocked NGOs and volunteers involved in the North Korean refugee issue and the abductee issue. The article appears to be based upon information from reliable government contacts as well as Japanese and overseas human rights NGOs, including Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW), and other groups working in Thailand and Laos.

The following is a brief summary of that Asahi Shimbun article.

Interviews with Japanese government officials reveal that more than a dozen North Korean defectors are being confined inside Japanese diplomatic missions in China. Because the Chinese government wants to discourage any increase in the inflow of North Korean defectors, it is demanding the Japanese MOFA pledge that never again will any Japanese diplomatic mission in China accept or protect North Korean defectors. In exchange for that pledge, China says it is willing to grant the currently confined defectors – and only those – permission to leave. The Japanese MOFA rejects any such agreement.

According to these Japanese officials, more than a dozen former ethnic Korean residents of Japan, plus their family members, are currently trapped inside various Japanese diplomatic missions in China. These former ethnic Korean residents immigrated to North Korea under the repatriation program being promoted during 1959 to 1984. (A total of 93,340 people, including approximately 1,800 Japanese wives, chose to move to North Korea, which was then being advertised as a “Paradise on Earth.”) The people who sought refuge inside the missions have asked to be allowed to return to Japan. But China, by withholding permission to leave the country, has kept the defectors trapped there, several for up to 2 years.

For humanitarian reasons, the Japanese government accepts and extends protection to former ethnic Korean residents of Japan as well as their family members for up to three degrees of kinship. When they request it, they are granted resident status in Japan under the Immigration Control Law. If it is too difficult for such people to reach Japanese diplomatic missions, the officials scrutinize their identities beforehand and meet with them outside a mission to arrange custody. So far, a hundred and some-odd dozen North Korean refugees have gained custody and been transferred to Japan.

The Chinese government has always arrested and repatriated North Korean defectors, except for those who gain entry into diplomatic missions. Those defectors were allowed to leave China to go countries where they wished to resettle. However, after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Chinese government stopped permitting North Korean defectors to leave; thus, their transfer to Japan also stopped, except for one pregnant woman in July 2010, who required surgery.

The Chinese government requested understanding from Japan, telling MOFA that continued permission to leave China, for the North Korean defectors who gained protection, would lead to a greater inflow. They also added that offering protection outside the diplomatic missions would violate Chinese domestic law. The Chinese government reportedly added that they would permit the departure of those defectors currently in the diplomatic missions on condition that the Japanese MOFA submit a written pledge promising to end acceptance of North Korean defectors.

The Japanese government has refused China’s demand for such a pledge partly because of Japan’s law for dealing with North Korean human rights violations that went into effect in 2006. The Japanese government, however, has ceased accepting any new North Korean defectors into its missions.

According to groups engaged in aiding North Korean defectors, this diplomatic standoff is the reason that the number of defectors escaping via Laos to Thailand has grown so rapidly in the last couple of years. Of the 2,952 North Korean defectors who reached South Korea in 2009, more than half arrived via Thailand.

See the original newspaper article in The Asahi Shimbun

How Dare the Chinese Government Demand this Written Pledge?

My own experiences, and those of other LFNKR members, suggest that the above article is accurate. The efforts of the Japanese government to provide protection for North Korean defectors fall a bit short, but the Chinese government has absolutely no right to demand such a written pledge from our government. We must not allow their outrageous behavior and attitude to go unchallenged. It is China that is neglecting international law.

And Why Are Japanese Politicians Silent?

I have long wondered why Japanese politicians say nothing against the inhumane behavior of Beijing.

Our government should at least speak up and declare clearly that such harassment by the Chinese government will never improve the friendship between our two countries. Instead, more than a hundred Japanese politicians eagerly visited China recently to take pictures with President Hu Jintao. But we have heard nothing yet about them stating their opinions on human rights issues in China. We can only conclude that Japanese politicians and MOFA officials are neglecting their responsibility, sycophants gutlessly kowtowing to China.

Does No One Have a Backbone?

The Chinese government has repeatedly asserted that there are no North Korean refugees – that they are all merely illegal immigrants. I absolutely cannot agree with our MOFA officials who stubbornly refuse to challenge Beijing’s official position, which insists on the need for “consideration” toward China. MOFA’s job is to protect North Korean defectors, regardless of China’s labeling them “illegal immigrants.”

Those Japanese foreign ministry officials are supposedly diplomatic experts, and they should be doing their best to persuade Beijing to respect the International Convention on the Status of Refugees, to which China is a signatory nation. To their shame, nothing they have told me hints at efforts to improve the current deadlock. Instead, they seem to be making every effort to keep the issue low profile.

Is no one in the government brave enough? Will no one courageously speak up and tell Beijing to its face that China is as guilty as the North Korean regime as long as they continue violating international law by arresting and repatriating North Korean refugees?

“I’m Still Waiting for my Daughter to Go to the Doctor with Me”

One mother, a former North Korea defector, recently began calling me. This mother has already reached Japan and been resettled here. For two years now, she has been waiting for her daughter to come. But her daughter is still trapped inside the Japanese Consulate in Shenyang. The mother repeatedly asks our group to do something to win her daughter’s release and to bring her to Japan as soon as possible. I feel terrible that I can do nothing but plead fruitlessly with MOFA officials. This mother suffers from serious varicose veins and wishes to have a surgery, but she hopes to wait until her daughter makes it to Japan.

I sympathize deeply with this mother, elderly and ill, who desperately waits for her daughter to come… someday.

Kato Hiroshi