The Japanese government has submitted a written pledge to the Chinese government that its missions in China will not try to protect North Korean refugees, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported on Thursday. Tokyo pledged the missions will respect Chinese laws and refrain from taking North Koreans into their compound.
Beijing had asked Tokyo for the written pledge in negotiations over the transfer of five North Koreans who had been living in the Japanese consulate in Shenyang since they sought refuge there in 2008.
China is North Korea's closest ally and has to contend with ever-growing numbers of refugees from the reclusive country.
China said the five North Koreans were illegal immigrants and refused to let them go to Japan. Beijing late last year said Japan must stop protecting North Korean defectors, and Japan promised to take the request under consideration. But eventually China insisted on a written pledge as a condition for letting the five go, the daily said. They were then taken to Japan with Beijing's tacit approval.
Since 2002, when another five North Koreans sought refuge in the Japanese consulate in Shenyang, Chinese police have stepped up surveillance near Japanese missions. Beijing protested that Japanese diplomats' assistance to North Korean defectors was interference in its domestic affairs.
A diplomatic source said, "By submitting the written pledge, Japanese diplomats promise not to give active assistance to North Korean defectors, but it doesn't seem to mean that they will stop North Koreans entering Japanese consulates if they evade Chinese police."
Tokyo has protected and helped North Korean defectors since 2006, when it enacted a North Korea human rights law. Some 200 North Koreans have found protection in Japanese overseas missions including in China.
The Japanese consulate general in Shenyang reportedly turned back one North Korean in January, and there are currently no North Koreans there.
However, Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba declined to confirm that the pledge exists, citing the "safety and privacy" of those involved. But he added it is unlikely that Japanese overseas missions will refuse to admit North Korean refugees.
The Japanese opposition Liberal Democratic Party said the remarks indirectly confirm the story and insisted Japan must continue to help North Korean refugees because they are entitled to protection of their human rights.