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Japan Increases Pressure on China to Hand Over Asylum Seekers - 2002-05-10

Japan is increasing pressure on China to hand over a group of North Korean asylum seekers, following the release of a video showing them being seized by Chinese guards on the grounds of a Japanese Consulate in Northeastern China. Japan says it will send high-ranking government officials to China for an investigation into the incident.

A diplomatic rift between China and Japan looks set to widen, with Japanese leaders expressing outrage toward China and accusing it of violating international treaties which protect diplomats and their missions.

China said Thursday it was trying to protect Japanese diplomats when it led away two people, believed to be North Korean asylum seekers, from the Japanese consulate in Shenyang. Initial media reports said that guards caught three others outside of the diplomatic compound gate.

But a video of the incident shows that the three entered the consulate's front gate and were later removed by Chinese guards. The video has been aired repeatedly on Japanese television newscasts.

Japanese government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda says that "based on the video, all five people were inside the compound." He adds that he "wants China to respond properly based on recognition of this."

Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi says Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has instructed her to react quickly and dispatch officials to China for an investigation.

The officials will also determine whether Japanese consulate staff acted properly in handling the incident. Some Japanese cabinet members have criticized them for standing by while the Chinese guards seized the North Koreans.

The incident follows several successful defection attempts in which North Koreans entered foreign embassies in China and asked for asylum. It draws attention to China's refusal to give refugee status to tens-of-thousands of North Koreans who have escaped their nation's Stalinist regime and now live in hiding in China. Most hope to defect to South Korea or another third country.

The dispute comes as China and Japan are honoring the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties. There are also concerns here that the spat could complicate Japan's attempts to secure China's approval for raising the sunken wreck of a suspected North Korean spy boat, which went down in Chinese waters in December after a gun battle with the Japanese Coast Guard.