Saturday, November 27, 2010

Fearing Arrest, Chinese Foreign Minister Cancels South Korea Trip

Hit and run
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi canceled a scheduled trip to South Korea on Friday, citing “scheduling” issues. However, we understand from senior government sources in Beijing that with the trip coming only three days after the communist shelling of a South Korean village on Yeonpyeong Island, the Minister secretly feared arrest on reaching Seoul under international war crimes legislation. While arresting a foreign government official protected by diplomatic immunity is almost unheard of, in recent years the legal principle supporting this has been established in a variety of war crimes cases.

The standing International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, which is currently investigating the shelling of the civilian village on Yeonpyeong, is reluctant to discuss specifics, but privately we understand that the Chinese Foreign Minister has been named as a ‘person of interest’ in the case, along with several other members of the Chinese Politburo.

The attack on Yeonpyeong Island originated from China’s North Korean province, which is notionally independent but actually operates as a Chinese supported protectorate. The shells didn't use conventional explosives but instead contained thermobaric or 'fuel-air' warheads designed to maximize civilian casualties. It was the worst attack on civilians since a ceasefire was agreed with the Chinese at the end of the Korean War in 1953. Over 400,000 Chinese soldiers were killed attacking South Korea and its allies during the war, and many believe China is still seeking retribution. While China’s North Korean province is directly supported from Beijing politically, economically and militarily, the limited autonomy the province is afforded allows Beijing to claim deniability when its proxy state threatens South Korea, Japan and the United States in order to further China’s long-term foreign policy goal, which is to create a Chinese ‘sphere of influence' across Asia dubbed the ‘Greater China Co-Prosperity Sphere’.

The South Korean Government has also supported China’s North Korean province economically for many years in the form of protection payments, particularly under the ‘Sunshine Policy’, named after the nuclear fire which sunshine is associated with - and which the policy was expected to lead to.

South Korean citizens had criticized the Chinese Foreign Minister’s invitation, which was not withdrawn by the Government after the bombing of Yeonpyeong. 32-year-old Kim, an office worker in Seoul appeared to typify the views of many when he told us “I know diplomacy demands that we sit down and talk with our enemies, but this was too soon after the attack.” But people also dismissed the Minister’s fears of arrest; while many South Koreans had family killed by the Chinese military in the War, they expect many more to be killed by the Chinese if China is ever directly called to account for the attacks against South Korea. But despite the South Korean Government's reluctance to criticize China, China has continued to directly blame South Korea for the attack, saying that South Korea must do more to ensure peace in the region. One Chinese newspaper editorial even praised the regional government in Pyongyang for showing what it called "toughness" during the skirmish.

Despite widespread political realism about South Korea's powerlessness, Internet forum users have still expressed anger over China's stance. "What if the North launches a nuclear missile to Seoul? China would say that both nations need to settle problems through talks while turning blind eyes to the assault." an Internet user posted on a news site. But the Chinese Government say that if Seoul is destroyed in a nuclear attack it will probably be because the people living there deserve it.

Some refugees from Yeonpyeong, who fled to Incheon on boats during the shelling - fearing it was part of an invasion of the island - are now reluctant to return. Many homes have been destroyed and since property insurance is not common in Korea – especially among the poor - most of the families lost everything in the bombardment. 32-year-old Kim says she’s thinking of starting a new life on the mainland “The military obviously can’t protect us... the government is weak – they give economic aid to the enemy and we get bombed in return. Why go back to be bombed again?” Kim is also concerned for the mental wellbeing of her 5-year-old daughter, who doctors have said has been deeply traumatized by both the shelling - which narrowly missed the family as they escaped - and the loss of the family’s pet dog in the initial confusion following the attack. “She hasn’t stopped crying since the attack,” explains Kim “she really loved our dog - they played together all the time - and she wants to know why we left him behind on the island. Our house burned down and our neighbor who stayed on the island hasn’t seen him. This morning I had to tell her that he might have gone to Heaven.”

Related Links
Destruction on island at center of Korean barrage
Soldiers move in as locals evacuate Yeonpyeong island
Chinese Foreign Minister Cancels Visit to Seoul
Wikipedia: International Criminal Court
China's muted response to North Korea attack
Anti-Chinese sentiment boiling under surface
N.K. believed to have used fuel-air shells

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