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China and Japan Seeking to Resolve Asylum Seeker Dilemma - 2002-05-15

The diplomatic stand-off between Tokyo and Beijing over five asylum seekers has moved no closer to resolution. Japanese media reports of an agreement appear to be premature.

China's Foreign Ministry sternly denied reports that an agreement had been reached to send the asylum seekers to another country.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said Japan should respect the results of an investigation China is conducting into the matter. He said China will handle the issue according to international and local laws.

However, earlier Wednesday, a top-level Japanese official said the two sides agreed to solve the dispute in a "humanitarian" fashion.

The impasse began last week when five North Koreans rushed into the Japanese consulate in Shenyang. Chinese police dashed in after them and dragged them away screaming for help.

International law says local police can not enter diplomatic buildings without permission.

China says a Japanese diplomat granted permission, Japan says that never happened. In the past few days, both sides have made harsh public statements criticizing each other.

Despite the sharp disagreement, the two nations held talks in Tokyo Wednesday, trying to resolve the dispute. But no conclusion has been announced.

Human rights groups say tens of thousands - perhaps hundreds of thousands of North Koreans - have fled their starving, repressive nation into China. In the past several months, a few dozen people have charged past Chinese guards into diplomatic compounds in China. Once inside, they request asylum and passage to South Korea.

In these cases, after days of negotiation, China has permitted the North Koreans to leave, generally for Singapore or the Philippines before making their way to South Korea.