Sun, May 12, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Tokyo, Beijing spar over asylum seekers

DIPLOMATIC ROW The two neighbors are stepping up the rhetoric over what went on in Japan's consulate in Shenyang after five North Koreans sought asylum there

REUTERS , TOKYO

Five North Korean asylum seekers sit down in a room before trying to rush into the Japanese consulate in Shenyang on Wednesday.

PHOTO: AP

China yesterday accused Japan of over-reacting to action by Chinese police who were filmed dragging away five North Koreans kicking and screaming from Japan's consulate in the north-eastern Chinese city of Shenyang.

The row over the incident intensified earlier when Japan, which has demanded an apology from China, dismissed a Chinese assertion that Japanese diplomats had allowed police to enter the compound to grab the five, who were apparently seeking asylum.

China has said it was acting to protect the consulate, and a Chinese embassy official in Tokyo reiterated yesterday that police were acting on permission from the Japanese consul who had consented to the police action after consulting his superiors.

Chinese embassy Counselor Huang Xingyuan told Kyodo News the Japanese consul had thanked the police for their cooperation.

"We understand serious Chinese guards fulfilled their duty in earnest. We can't understand why the Japanese side over-reacted to the incident," Huang said in an interview with Kyodo.

The Chinese official said police did not know the five were North Koreans until they had been taken into custody.

Japan said earlier there was no truth to Chinese allegations that Japanese consular officials had given their consent for the five -- including a weeping toddler in a pink pinafore and pigtails -- to be seized inside the consulate.

"We have investigated the incident, and Japan did not agree to the entrance of the police to the consulate and the removal of the five people," the Foreign Ministry said.

"We reiterate and strongly request that they be speedily handed over, and that China apologize and provide guarantees such an incident will not happen again," said the statement which was unusually harsh for Japan.

A team of senior Japanese diplomats sent by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi arrived in Shenyang yesterday to investigate the incident. Japan had already called in the Chinese ambassador to lodge a strong protest over two North Korean men who had been seized inside the compound despite the protests of its diplomats.

China insists it was acting in Japan's interests.

"It is groundless to accuse the Chinese side of entering the consulate without consent," China's Xinhua news agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan (孔泉) as saying yesterday.

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