- Kim Young-hwan Freed, Officially 'Deported' in Consideration of Seoul-Beijing Relations
- By Jeon Byeong-yeok
Kim Young-hwan, 49, and three other human rights activists were released on July 20, after being detained on the charge of a Chinese felony of 'endangering national security.' Contrary to general concerns, Kim and the three have officially been 'deported' without any indictment, a decision seemingly made by China in consideration of relations between Seoul and Beijing.
Some speculate that the early release has something to do with a Mr. Ryu, a Chinese on trial on the charge of throwing a gasoline bomb at the Japanese embassy in South Korea.
The government commented, "The safe return of Kim and the other activists is the result of our diplomatic efforts." The charge of endangering national security could have resulted in a maximum penalty of death for Kim and the three but they have been deported even without a procedure of 'reduced sentence after indictment.'
Their return is a result of close coordination between the two governments. Kim Sung-hwan, Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs, met Yang Jiechi, Chinese Foreign Minister in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on July 12 for a bilateral meeting and asked for their release.
Kim Young-hwan, a human right activist for North Korea who has been detained for 114 days by the Chinese Public Security, returns home via Incheon International Airport on July 20 and greets a welcoming crowd, showing his fist. Yeongjong Island / Kim Young-min
Then on July 13, Meng Jianzhu visited Korea at the government's invitation, becoming the first Chinese Minster of Public Security to do so.
Minister Kim requested the early release of Kim and the others once again and Minister Meng implied the possibility by saying, "We are reviewing [the matter] very seriously, in consideration of Korea-China relations and other factors."
However, it was reported that the two governments had already agreed on the 'early release' in principle as early as June (Section 1, Kyunghyang Shinmun, June 20 issue).
It is also speculated that there may have been a quid pro quo for Kim's release: The Chinese government is highly likely to have given its consent on the condition of Ryu's extradition; China has requested for deportation of Ryu; and Minister Meng is said to have expressed his interest in Ryu's extradition when he met Kwon Jae-jin, Korean Minister of Justice.
However, the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied such speculation, saying, "There are absolutely no strings attached to Kim's deportation." The Japanese government's demand that Ryu be sent to its Tokyo had repercussions to cause a diplomatic issue among Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo, which was another factor in consideration.
Some interpret China's agreement on the early release as its reluctance to reveal Kim's activities of his campaigns for democracy in North Korea in the event of indictment.
Even though it is not publicly known what exactly Kim and the other activists have been doing in China, some believe that they have not just been planning for the defection of North Koreans: they may have been involved with some anti-regime activities inside North Korea.
There are suspicions that they may have had help from the intelligence in Korea or in the United States during the process.
When asked by journalists at Incheon Airport, Kim made it clear that he had no intention to hide his moves regarding human rights in North Korea by replying, "The reality in North Korea is gruesome. I will continue my endeavors for human rights there, in spite of any unfair coercion."
Pyongyang is likely to feel uneasy about the early release of Kim and the three, as they are suspected of campaigns for democracy on the North Korean border, right under its nose.
The previous day, the North Korean government expressed strong displeasure, airing a press conference by Jeon Young-cheol: a defector allegedly arrested for plotting to destroy a statue of Kim Il-sung.
North Korea insisted that the whole thing had been plotted by 'GDKIS (Group for Demolition of Kim Il-sung's Statues),' South Korea's intelligence agency and the United States.
There is also another speculation that China has made this choice to create a right level of tension before it establishes the relationship with Pyongyang's still new regime under Kim Jong-un, the first secretary of the Worker's Party.