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Home > Media Reiews > News Review Last Updated: 14:52 03/09/2007
News Review #32: May 16, 2002

China and Japan in asylum impasse

Reviewed By Hitoshi URABE

"China and Japan in asylum impasse"
Financial Times

Five North Koreans seeking asylum at the Consulate General of Japan in Shenyang, China was commented on in "News Review #31" a couple of days ago. Since then, it has stayed as the very top story in every media, which has resulted, among other things, to appear almost every day in "Japan in the News" column of this GLOCOM sight. So it might worth being taken up again here, too.

The article referred to above this time reports that the negotiation between Japan and China has stalled, but apparently there have been further developments, and Japanese media reports that an agreement was reached to allow the five asylum seekers to depart for a third country rather than being sent back to North Korea. It is explained that both governments sought a solution with "humanitarian considerations."

Humanitarian consideration is in fact a very convenient expression. It has the effect of silencing, if only momentarily, squabbles over trivial diplomatic procedures where the sole purpose is to save face for the governments, has bought time to care for the five poor people to flee from their homeland.

For Japan this incident has revealed another policy issue that needs to be sorted out, perhaps not urgently, but in due course. It is the policy on refugees and immigrants, legal and illegal.

With due respect to the harsh experience they must have had during their lives back home, it must be recognized that the five North Koreans who ran into Japanese Consulate could hardly be called refugees. As defined by UNHCR, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a refugee is a person who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country..."

Though a thorough analysis is necessary for a determination, it seems more likely that those people ran from their home land not for the reasons stipulated in the above UNHCR statement, but rather to run away from poverty. If that were the case, they do not qualify as refugees which International Society presently agrees the need for protection to be extended. They are no different from those people, such as Mexicans climbing five meter walls at the border to illegally enter U.S. in seeking for better jobs, or Chinese people who set out to sea on a worn-out boat with a hope of reaching Japan's shores, to illegally land and seek better lives.

An example and a good indication is the case of three North Koreans who ran into the U.S. Consulate at the same time the five people failed the venture at the Japanese Consulate. The three people were reportedly sent to South Korea, who had expressed their willingness to receive them, despite their desires to reach the U.S., who simply rejected their request on the basis that they do not qualify as immigrants or refugees to step on the soil.

It would have been interesting if the five people had succeeded in being sheltered in the Japanese Consulate, and then they had expressed their desire to head for Japan. How, then, the Japan's government, and the public, would have responded could be an intriguing thought experiment. But this is not a fiction in the distance, it could become a reality any day, and Japan should be prepared for it.

Copyright © Japanese Institute of Global Communications