For a year, President Assad of Syria’s troops have bombarded the city of Homs, the hub of the country’s democratic movement, killing women, children and civilians in the city’s Baba Amro area. The Syrian troops are committing genocide similar to that of the Nazis going house-to-house in search of Jews in Poland. Already, 8,000 civilians have sacrificed themselves for Syrian democratization.
Behind the Syrian troops lie China and Russia. Last month on the 5th, the UN Security Council tried to pass a resolution criticizing the Syrian government, but it was opposed by the two countries. This was a license to commit genocide, allowing Assad, an ophthalmologist by trade who once studied in England, to kill freely whomever he wants without concern for the international community.
The Russian veto was a strategic calculation covering not only arms sales to Syria but also preventing U.S. influence in the Middle East from growing. Meanwhile, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said of their veto, “The Chinese perspective is that a nation should not be affected by the attitude of other countries, and reflects our basic principles and national interest.” The principle China says it is supporting is ‘non-intervention’, but in fact there are concerns that the Chinese government’s harsh repression of the people of Tibet and the Uighurs could come to resemble the democratic movement in Syria.
But as Assad’s massacre, permitted by both China and Russia, gets near the level of Hitler’s atrocities, China, facing criticism from the international community, goes on about trying to mediate a ceasefire between the Syrian government and resistance groups. However, everyone knows that this is designed to keep face. Last year, supporting Qaddafi, China proved it is an anachronism, not the center of the world at all, the last word in human rights violations.
Assemblyman Park Sun Young’s fasting and the ‘Cry with Us’ concert held by South Korean celebrities have both received national attention. But China’s stance is still as firm as rock. The Chinese government’s position on defectors is, “Those who illegally cross the border due to famine or for economic reasons are not considered refugees.” But in fact, there is no uncertainty in the U.N. Convention on Refugees.
In point of fact, China has ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel and Unusual Punishments as well, so, whether they recognize the North Koreans as refugees or not, they should still not be repatriating them. In the past, China has illegally detained Tibetans and forced oppressive ‘re-education’ on them for participating in religious ceremonies while on visits to India and, looking at this, we shouldn’t expect a change of heart. China’s own human rights status is in poor condition, and if North Korea says, as a mere formality, “We will not torture the defectors and will not treat them as criminals,” it is a foregone conclusion that China will send them back.
Accordingly, for South Korea to prevent the repatriation of the North Korean defectors it must come up with something better. One option would be for South Korea to confer South Korean nationality on them and permit the immediate transit to South Korea of those who do not wish to return. North Korea claims the defectors are North Korean by virtue of its constitution, and the same applies to the South Korean government. The only way out is for China, which has diplomatic ties with both North and South Korea, to decide based on their citizenship status.
However, the reason why China does not blink as it pushes them to the jaws of death is not its own legal interpretation of the UN Refugee Convention or even their North Korean nationality, but it is to weaken U.S. influence on the Peninsula by maintaining North Korea by whatever means necessary. This was shown in China’s constant retardation of the Six-Party Talks, and was clearly evident in the Chinese government’s attitude to the Yeonpyeong Island shelling and Cheonan sinking. For the sake of strategy, China does not mind sacrificing thousands of nationals and foreigners.
The South Korean government issuing the North Korean defectors with travel permits is not enough to prevent their repatriation. Unless it can influence China’s strategic interests, it will be hard to stop the repatriations. Then what Chinese strategic interests can the South Korean government leverage? Simply, the South Korea-China Free Trade Agreement.
In 2004, the South Korean and Chinese governments started privately researching an FTA, and now the agreement is being discussed. If South Korea were to forge an FTA with China, which places an almost 10% tariff on Korean industrial goods, then South Korean industrial products would have a much greater competitive advantage in the huge domestic Chinese market. Of course we have to consider the fact that China’s industrial and agricultural products would also be imported more cheaply to South Korea, but looking at the balance sheet it would likely benefit South Korea to a greater degree.
However it is dangerous for South Korea to view the South Korea-China FTA simply as an economic issue, something which has been made clear by the current situation in Syria and the North Korean defector issue. To China, one of the G2 major economic powers of the day, South Korea is just another trading partner, but the FTA will make Seoul more heavily reliant on China and from there South Korea’s life may end up in Beijing’s hands.
Of course, interdependence is a universal phenomenon, and should not be seen as a bad thing. However, if China holds South Korea’s economic life-line, were they to differ in political and moral terms, South Korea’s economic dependence would look different. We must consider what deep economic and political dependence means when China’s human rights situation is so poor and they are willing to play the uncivilized Godfather role on the international stage.
From now on, the Lee administration, which has already been abandoned by both the ruling and opposition parties, should stay away from short-term political gain and only act upon the national interest. There is no need to concern itself with the Saenuri Party or Democratic United Party. South Korea-China FTA negotiations should be preconditioned upon South Korean nationality for the North Korean defectors, and South Korea needs to re-check again and again the real meaning of an FTA with China.