By Kim Seong Jung, General Manager, Free North Korea Radio
[2011-10-13 10:35 ]
Many people are already aware of the Chinese government’s intention to repatriate over twenty defectors from North Korea, despite the protestations of the South Korean government. Although the two South Korean nationals arrested alongside the defectors have now been left out of the group, it seems inevitable that the rest will be sent back into peril.
Those who get repatriated to North Korea are subjected to brutal punishment. Being sent to a labor-training camp is a relatively fortunate result; however, those who are discovered to have had contact with South Koreans are labeled traitors and sent to a political prison camp. In a case such as this one which has become an international issue, the repercussions for returnees are particularly severe. What the Chinese government is doing now; sending these defectors back to a situation which will put them in great personal peril, must be reconsidered.
There appear to be two main reasons for this uncompromising Chinese stance. One is the government’s relationship with Kim Jong Il. China desperately needs stability on the Korean peninsula for its own benefit, and this requires support for the Kim Jong Il regime. No matter how much criticism it comes in for from the international community over its policy of returning such defectors, it is preferable to the alternatives.
Another reason is the fear of what would happen if the government recognized North Korean citizens as refugees and sent them to their country of choice, potentially inviting swathes of additional defectors across the border. This mentality betrays the authorities’ fear that hundreds of thousands of defectors already within China’s borders would come out of the woodwork and turn themselves in if they knew that they could get to South Korea even after being arrested.
Thus, let it not be said that I am living in blissful ignorance of the factors which influence the Chinese government’s treatment of North Korean defectors. Simply, the time has come for it to change its policy. The time of kowtowing to America and other developed nations for the sake of its economic development has long passed. China is one half of the ‘G2’; while It might need a bit more time before it is truly on par with the United States, it is already the only country in the world that is in the same ballpark politically, economically and militarily.
This status change means that China’s responsibilities to the international community grow in lockstep with its other capabilities. Since it took the road of liberal reform it has provided livelihoods for its 1.3 billion people while also doing much for the world economy. As a South Korean, I can say that the economic growth of my own country through the 1990s would not have been easy if not for the even greater growth that was happening in China at the same time. But that is not enough for China to become a member of the top echelon of powers. The international community expects Beijing to make a bigger contribution to human rights and the universal progress of mankind. A n excellent place to start might be with the issue of North Korean defectors.
It goes without saying that there are complex factors which may prevent China from sending defectors to South Korea straight away, but the least they can do is discontinue returning these people to a place where they face death. The world is now closely watching China’s handling of this case to see whether it has what it takes to be a leader in the 21st century and a trusted partner in years to come. I hope that China will reconsider this issue and come to a sensible decision.
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