BEIJING – China said Friday that the Chinese police officers who seized five North Korean asylum seekers inside the Japanese consulate in Shenyang acted with the consent of Japanese consular officials, disputing Japan’s claim that they entered the diplomatic mission without consent.
The Japanese Embassy denied the claim in a statement later in the day.
As the diplomatic row intensified, a team of Japanese diplomats arrived in Shenyang on Saturday to begin to investigate the incident.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said the Chinese police officers who seized the North Korean men inside the visa section of the consulate had entered the building and brought them out “with the consent of a deputy consul.”
“Later, a Japanese consul contacted the Chinese side on the matter, consented that the five persons be taken away by Chinese police and thanked the armed police officers for their efforts,” Kong said in a statement distributed by the official Xinhua News Agency early Saturday.
The Japanese government has lodged a strong protest with China, accusing the Chinese police officers of violating the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The treaty bars agents of state from entering the premises of a diplomatic mission without the consent of the head of the mission.
“It is groundless to accuse the Chinese side of entering the consulate without consent,” Kong said.
The defection bid by the five North Koreans — a couple, their daughter, the man’s mother and a younger brother — on Wednesday has caused a political uproar in Japan after the government accused the Chinese police who seized the defectors of entering the consulate without consent.
Kong said the Chinese police acted “out of goodwill” and urged the Japanese government “not to aggravate the issue” and to keep calm.
“China has always attached importance to Sino-Japanese relations and handled accidents in bilateral relations with calm and prudence,” Kong said, recalling an incident in May 1998 in which he said several Japanese police officers entered the main building of the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo and took people away “without the consent of the Chinese side.”
“The Chinese side handled that affair exactly with calm and prudence,” he said.
The five-strong Japanese team, headed by Masaaki Ono, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Consular and Migration Affairs Department, arrived in the northeastern city after flying to Beijing on Friday.
The team plans to focus on the events that unfolded when the police officers chased the two North Korean men inside the visa section of the consulate before catching them and dragging them away.
Mission members told the press in the evening that they began questioning the consulate staff. But they declined to disclose the contents, only saying they will continue the probe Sunday.
Depending on the outcome of the investigation, Japanese consular officials and top Foreign Ministry officials could face punishment because a video clearly shows Chinese officers chasing the asylum seekers into the visa section, about 40 meters from the consulate entrance, diplomatic sources said.
Consulate officials had claimed they were not aware that the two men had been inside the visa section for more than 10 minutes before the Chinese police officers seized them.
The Japanese team also plans to ask China to hand over the asylum seekers because the Japanese government says the Chinese police officers violated the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations by entering the consulate, Japan’s Foreign Ministry sources said.
Ono told reporters at the airport in Shenyang that the team will first try to get to the bottom of what happened.
“(The Chinese announcement) is quite different from what we were given to understand. We will, therefore, try to investigate it,” Ono said, adding the team will seek to have the asylum seekers handed over only after they have conducted an in-depth investigation.
“We do not know how long (the investigation) will last,” Ono said.
The incident is also attracting international attention because the video captured images of two screaming North Korean women and a small girl wrestled to the ground by the Chinese police and dragged from the consulate.
Police were ‘unaware’
The Chinese police who seized five people inside the Japanese Consulate General in Shenyang, northeastern China, on Wednesday did not know they were North Korean asylum seekers, a Chinese Embassy official claimed Saturday.
Chinese Embassy Counselor Huang Xingyuan said in a telephone interview with Kyodo News that the armed police did not understand what the five were saying, so they removed them from the Consulate General and discovered that they were North Korean after questioning them.
“We understand serious Chinese guards fulfilled their duty in earnest. We can’t understand why the Japanese side overreacted to the incident,” Huang said.
U.S. criticizes China
WASHINGTON (Kyodo) The United States tacitly criticized China on Friday after Chinese police entered the Japanese Consulate General in Shenyang on Wednesday to detain North Korean asylum seekers.
“We do take the Vienna convention’s obligations regarding the inviolability of diplomatic and consular premises very seriously, and we expect other nations to do the same,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in a news briefing.
He added, however, that the issue should be settled between Japan and China.
“This is a matter between the Chinese and Japanese governments that should be based on bilateral and international arrangements,” Boucher said.
U.S. senator’s plea
WASHINGTON (Kyodo) Following the lead of four House of Representatives members, U.S. Sen. George Allen asked China on Friday to treat the North Korean asylum seekers detained at the Japanese and South Korean diplomatic compounds humanely.
“I strongly urge your government not to forcibly return any of them to North Korea, where they would face certain danger,” Allen, a Republican from Virginia, said in a letter to Chinese Ambassador to the United States Yang Jiechi.
Allen was referring to five North Koreans who were detained by armed Chinese policemen at the Japanese Consulate General in the Chinese city of Shenyang on Wednesday and three North Koreans who were detained when they attempted to enter the South Korean Embassy in Beijing on April 29.
Allen said he understands the five North Koreans detained at the Japanese Consulate General have requested asylum in the U.S.
A similar letter was sent Thursday to the Chinese envoy jointly by four members of the House International Relations Committee, including its chairman, Henry Hyde, an Illinois Republican.
Allen said if the North Koreans are repatriated, they may be executed or sent to camps for political prisoners.
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