Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Lessons from the Shenyang incident
TADOKORO Takehiko / Trustee of Toho Gakuen

June 14, 2002
When the five North Koreans who sought asylum at the Japanese Consulate-General in Shenyang were still being detained by Chinese authorities, I wrote an article for a weekly magazine entitled "The Deplorable Lack of Humanitarian Sensibility of the Japanese and Chinese Authorities." Judging from the video produced with the cooperation of an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization), it is evident that the assertion made by the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman that they "detained unidentified individuals who forced their way into the Consulate to protect consular staff" doesn't hold up to the truth. From the outset, it was obvious that the five were North Koreans seeking asylum. Meanwhile, the Japanese Consulate protested afterwards against an "infringement of inviolability," but one of the consular staff was captured on video kindly picking up a cap dropped by a Chinese policeman in his struggle to subdue a woman, while the Consulate reportedly also thanked the Chinese side, making their words and deeds similarly suspect. Furthermore, it was later revealed that a staff had turned down a letter written in English requesting asylum presented by a North Korean man who ran into the Consulate. Neither the Japanese nor Chinese side showed any sense of sympathy for the refugees who are in a weak position.

Nevertheless, Japanese Ambassador to China Koreshige Anami wasn't completely wrong to have given orders to turn back suspicious individuals trying to enter the Consulate. Generally speaking, he did the right thing. No consulate in the world - regardless of country - welcomes suspicious individuals amid the possibility of terrorism. In Ambassador Anami’s case, it was unfortunate that his comments were made immediately prior to the incident.

How should such a situation be dealt with? Security is important, sovereignty is important and the human rights of visitors to the Consulate are also important. Consular staff employed overseas on people's tax money mustn't give up thinking at this point, but instead endeavor to seek the best course of action from an overall viewpoint by being constantly alert to these issues. In doing so, they must constantly seek relevant information. Why are there North Korean refugees - cited at 50,000 or over 100,000 - in North-Eastern China, and why are a considerable number of such refugees seeking an opportunity to escape to a third country where they will be treated as refugees? What's going on inside North Korea? Had they been more focused on these points, they wouldn't have responded in such a sorry way as demonstrated on video.

I'm no expert on North Korea, but I have visited the country three times since my first visit in 1975 to the winter of 1994. In 1982, I was dined by then President Kim Il Sung at his palace in Pyongyang, and couldn't help but sigh at the overwhelming gap that existed between the top and bottom ranks of society. By 1994, after the death of Kim Il Sung, the impoverishment of rural regions suffering from crop failure had reached tragic proportions.

The causes involved are sometimes structural and difficult to resolve. While the 'Sunshine Policy'adopted by South Korean President Kim Dae Jung is understandable, I can't fully approve because there is an element of postponing the problem. The starting point is to understand the predicament of those who must abandon their home country at the risk of losing their lives, and to sympathize with them.

The video brought reality into sharp focus, providing us with the opportunity to contemplate various issues facing us.

The writer is a Trustee of Toho Gakuen and former Beijing Bureau Chief of the Asahi Newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

田所 竹彦 / 桐朋学園理事

2002年 6月 14日






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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Lessons from the Shenyang incident