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Government Nervous about Possible Diplomatic Friction
By Sohn Je-min
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The Korean government is in a very awkward situation as Kim Young-hwan, an activist for human rights in North Korea exposed on July 25 that he had been abused during the interrogation process by the Chinese authority.

Despite all the diplomatic efforts made by the government to bring back Kim, a new diplomatic issue arose between Seoul and Beijing now that he has returned.

Kim claimed that he suffered "physical abuse" and "sleep deprivation," but the government only repeated its "request for a verification of claims" several times instead of making a "protest" to China, which may be a sign of its embarrassment over the situation.

A source from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) revealed that the government first learned about the alleged abuse on June 11, at the time of Kim's second interview with Korean consuls at Dandung Jail in China.

Kim Young-hwan, an activist for human rights in North Korea is having a press conference at Community Chest of Korea in Jung-gu, Seoul on July 25. Kim was arrested in China last March on the charge of endangering national security and released after 114 days. / Kim Young-min

The source said that Seoul requested for a verification of this claim but Beijing only repeated a same answer that no such thing had happened according to their internal investigation.

Since the first knowledge, Seoul made six more requests to Beijing to confirm the facts through various diplomatic channels: the efforts continued from June 12 when Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Jae-shin summoned Chinese Ambassador to Seoul Zhang Xinsen until July 23 when Director-General Ahn Young-jip for Overseas Koreans and Consular Affairs called in Zhang's proxy Chen Hai.

The MOFAT source said, "As an authority to protect the safety of overseas Korean, we always raise a question when claims like this are made; but when the counterpart denies them, we cannot make a formal protest without first confirming relevant facts."

When asked, "Do you think Kim's claims can be a little exaggerated?" this source replied, "The government cannot make any judgment on that but I believe there are people who think so."

Another government official commented, "We have asked China to verify Kim's abuse claims, but unless there is any physical evidence available, it will not be easy to confirm them. We are in this situation because China has not allowed Kim to meet a lawyer in the first place; at the end of the day, there is nothing we can do about it now."

The Korean government expects that Kim's public claims and its continued requests so far can put some pressure on Beijing. This issue caused by an activist for human rights in North Korea may be turned into a bigger one of human rights issue in China, which may eventually have some impact on South Korea-China relationship.

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