Japan on Friday ratcheted up the pressure on China to hand over five North Korean asylum seekers who were dragged out of the Japanese consulate in Shenyang two days earlier by trespassing Chinese police.
Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi summoned Chinese Ambassador Wu Dawei to the Foreign Ministry, demanded that China apologize over the incident and reiterated Japan’s demand for a quick handover.
“There is a very strong reaction to this incident in Japan,” Kawaguchi was quoted as telling Wu. “If China takes longer to deal with the matter, it would not only affect Japan-China relations but also affect how the rest of the world evaluates China’s human rights record.”
Wu replied that China is investigating the incident and reiterated China’s stance that young police officers at the scene were simply trying to protect the consulate.
But Kawaguchi sharply rebutted Wu’s explanation, telling him Japan will not make concessions on the matter, as the action of the Chinese police was a clear violation of the Vienna Convention, which stipulates the extraterritorial status of diplomatic missions.
Later Friday night, a Japanese government source said the rift could be settled by China allowing the five North Koreans to go to a third country.
“That would be acceptable,” the government source said. “An option that we definitely cannot accept would be their extradition to North Korea. The second worst-case scenario would be China releasing them in Shenyang.”
Earlier, the Foreign Ministry set up a special task force, headed by Vice Foreign Minister Yukio Takeuchi, to deal with the incident, and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi instructed Kawaguchi to send senior ministry officials to China to investigate the matter.
“I told the foreign minister to send people (to China) to look into the case,” Koizumi said. “China should take sincere measures to deal with Japan’s protest.”
In the evening Masaaki Ono, director general of the Consular and Migration Affairs Department, left for China to head the group, according to ministry officials.
The group will also visit Beijing to discuss the issue with China’s Foreign Ministry, and Japan’s Foreign Ministry is considering sending a senior vice minister and a parliamentary secretary to participate in the negotiations.
It had been reported that two of the five asylum seekers managed to enter the visa-application area of the compound before being dragged out by intruding Chinese officials. But video footage, which began being aired on Japanese television Thursday evening, shows that the other three had made it inside the consulate gate.
The video vividly shows Chinese police dragging two screaming women out of the compound, while a little girl, dressed in pink and with her hair tied in pig tails, watched, crying, from inside the gate.
Kawaguchi said she had watched the video and agrees that all five had made it inside the grounds of the consulate.
She also admitted that consulate staff, who merely stood by and watched, did not do enough to help the asylum seekers, saying they should have intervened or stopped the Chinese police from entering the compound.
“I think they could have reacted differently,” she said.
The video shows three embassy staff standing by as the two women screamed for help as they were subdued by the police. One of the consulate employees then picked up caps the Chinese officers had lost during the scuffle and returned them.
“The staff must have reasons for acting like that,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said. “That’s what we want to know.”
Fukuda criticized the Shenyang consulate for failing to anticipate attempts by asylum seekers to access the facility. “Similar cases have occurred in China,” he said. “Therefore, officials at the consulate should have mapped out measures to take should such a case happen.”
Kawaguchi told the day’s plenary session of the House of Representatives that the consulate’s handling of the case was lax in terms of crisis management, security and information gathering. She said she will check and correct, if necessary, the crisis management manual and instruct all embassies and consulates to review the guidelines.
Former Ambassador to the U.S. Shunji Yanai said it was deplorable that the consulate staff permitted the Chinese police to enter the grounds.
“They should have prevented it, even physically,” said Yanai, a Chuo University professor. “The incident has left me speechless. It’s absolutely humiliating.”
Former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto expressed concern over the issue at a meeting in Tokyo with a Chinese delegation seeking to promote tourism between Japan and China.
“The Chinese officers’ action dumped cold water on Japanese people’s feelings,” Hashimoto said. Hashimoto heads a group of lawmakers set up to promote events marking the 30th anniversary of the normalization of Japan-China diplomatic ties in 1972.
Defense Agency chief Gen Nakatani described the intrusion into a foreign consulate to seize people as “unprecedented in history.”
He dismissed Beijing’s claim that the Chinese officers had acted under the terms of the Vienna Convention to ensure the safety of the compound, saying the treaty only allows China to enter the consulate with the consent of the Japanese government.
“I don’t think any nation would support China’s claim, since it would be a problem for every country in the world if this action sets a precedent.”
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