The international community's bid to help China evolve through "engagement" has so far failed miserably. Two recent events vividly highlight the fact that China considers itself above international law and customs. Its conduct demonstrates the egocentricity handed down through centuries that the Middle Kingdom's imperial rule is alive and well in the Beijing of today.
\nIn the first incident, five North Korean asylum seekers, including two women and a child, were forcibly dragged out of the Japanese consulate in Shenyang by armed Chinese police last week. The incident was an egregious violation of the Vienna Convention and international customs that govern diplomatic relations. Embassies and consulates are an extension of the territories of their countries. So, host governments or their representatives cannot set foot on such foreign territory without proper consent. Tokyo says no such permission was given.
\nAfter pictures of the police grappling with the women as the little girl cried in the background sparked an international uproar, Beijing tried to salvage its image by claiming that the police had obtained consent from Japanese diplomats and that they were simply trying to protect the safety of the consulate.
\nBeijing did not even bother to consult with the Japanese government before issuing its explanations -- apparently convinced that Tokyo would cave into Chinese pressure and simply acquiesce as usual. But the Japanese government has instead protested ferociously, causing a diplomatic row at a time when the two nations are preparing to commemorate the 30th anniversary of their normalizing relations.
\nPerhaps Japan should be rethinking its preference for compromising. Tokyo's reluctance to ruffle feathers by speaking directly has gotten it nowhere in negotiations with the Chinese over the five North Koreans. This was not the first such asylum bid, nor will it be the last by desperate North Koreans. But it is worth noting that Chinese police did not dare intrude on the foreign soil of the German, Canadian or US missions in the other incidents. Was the Japanese consulate singled out because Beijing was sure it could browbeat Tokyo into toeing its line?
\nThe North Koreans who have fled their starving nation across the previously porous border to live in hiding in China face harsh punishment if they are returned home. The Chinese government has an agreement with Pyongyang to repatriate such people. However, it has allowed more than two dozen North Koreans who sought refuge in foreign diplomatic missions in the last two month to go to South Korea. The three men who made it over the wall and into the US consulate in Shenyang last week arrived in Seoul yesterday. So why is China playing hardball with Tokyo over the five people who tried to enter the Japanese consulate?
\nThe second incident involves some grossly inappropriate comments by Li Ionglu (
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