Japan will consult with Chinese authorities in an effort to allow four asylum seekers from North Korea who entered a Japanese school in Beijing to be moved to a third country, government sources said Wednesday.
The government also launched consultations with South Korea, which may accept the four, who entered the school grounds Tuesday afternoon when the gates were open to let students leave.
It may still take a while until the actual deportation takes place, a Foreign Ministry official said, citing prior cases that took weeks or even months to resolve.
Meanwhile, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Beijing will decide what to do with the asylum seekers after verifying their identities.
“After China has received detailed information from Japan, it will check the identities of the four people and deal with them according to domestic and international laws and in a humanitarian spirit,” Zhang Qiyue said in a written statement.
On Tuesday, Chu Mi Yong, 43; her daughter, Roh Yu Mi, 13; son, Roh Gwang Myoung, 10; and Kim Chol, 20, entered the school in a bid to seek asylum in Japan, according to Rescue The North Korean People (RENK), a group supporting North Korean asylum seekers.
They were later transferred to the Japanese Embassy’s consular division and are still being questioned by embassy officials, the Foreign Ministry official said.
Tokyo will probably not grant the four asylum because they are not former residents of Japan or Japanese spouses of North Koreans.
Japan does not grant refugee status to asylum seekers from North Korea because it does not consider them to be fleeing persecution. Nevertheless the government has apparently decided to send the four to a third country on humanitarian grounds, according to the sources.
“We will consult with Chinese authorities on whether to deport (the four to another country),” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda told a news conference Wednesday.
Fukuda further noted that Beijing’s attitude on the issue of North Korean asylum seekers has become more humanitarian in light of the situation in North Korea and the increased attention such cases are drawing from the international community.
Japan’s speedy reaction reflects its bitter experience from last May, when five North Koreans rushed into the Japanese Consulate General in Shenyang, China, only to be dragged out of the compound by Chinese police.
Tokyo was severely criticized for not preventing Chinese authorities from entering the consulate, allegedly without consent, an act that Japan later claimed was a violation of the Vienna Convention.
Another Foreign Ministry official said there is less concern over a diplomatic row with China this time because Japan has custody of the four.
“When the Shenyang incident took place, Japan had to criticize China and ask for its cooperation at the same time, as China had custody of the five,” the official said. “But this time, we have custody.”
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