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Inept Diplomacy Dooms POW Escapee

Posted July. 27, 2010 13:36,   


Chung Sang-un, a South Korean prisoner of war, escaped to China in December last year after 50 years of suffering under North Korea’s communist regime. Old and in bad health, he jumped into the Tuman River in a desperate attempt to reunite with his family. His hope for freedom was shattered after his arrest by a Chinese public security officer after just three days. After suffering in a foreign land, he is known to have been deported back to the North. Once again, the Chinese government’s inhumane act and the South’s diplomatic incompetence have cornered a South Korean POW into a deadly situation.

There is little possibility that North Korean escapees including South Korean POWs can survive once they are deported back to the North. North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity, a Seoul-based group run by North Korean defectors, said Sunday that the North executed July 16 three North Koreans who were sent back from China at an airfield in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province. Among them was 72-year-old POW Han Man-taek, who escaped to China in 2005 but was caught and sent back to the North and put into a concentration camp. Han suffered from high blood pressure and paralysis on the left side of his body, making his transfer to the concentration camp a de facto death sentence.

Seoul says it repeatedly contacted Beijing over Chung but it neither prevented his deportation nor properly protested. South Korea’s policy of “silent diplomacy” in expecting China’s good will turned out to be “inept diplomacy.” Why can’t the government openly request China’s cooperation and promote an aggressive international diplomacy in highlighting how inhumane the deportation of POWs is? Deportation of POWs violates the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.

China has overtly interfered with the South’s internal affairs by opposing the South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises in South Korean territorial waters and airspace. Yet the presidential office in Seoul allegedly opposed protesting Chung’s deportation to China. Is the government too fearful of upsetting Beijing? The 81-year-old POW became the victim of Seoul’s diplomacy of cowardliness. What does a nation exist for? Is keeping peace more important than national security?

Seoul must bring back its POWs still living in the North. The U.S. has been doing its best to find and repatriate the remains of American soldiers killed a century ago in World War I. The South Korean government estimates 560 of its POWs remain alive in the North, but has brought back none through its own efforts. Seoul thus has no right to talk about global leadership.