Home > Uncategorized > Face Saving in South Korea, and Piling BS at China’s Doorstep

Face Saving in South Korea, and Piling BS at China’s Doorstep

A few years ago, there were several high profile incidents of North Korean refugees “running the guntlet” to embassies in Beijing, especially the South Korean embassy.  They scaled fences and walls, or tried to rush the local Chinese police, or tried to fake their way into the embassies under false pretenses.

China was accused of roughing some of them up.  South Koreans blame China as abusing the refugees, because technically, under South Korean laws, all North Korean citizens are also South Korean citizens.

If you read the internet posts from many South Koreans, they blame China for these abuses of their “brethens”.

However, the Truth is far more embarrassing to South Korea:  That they really don’t want the North Koreans, and they wouldn’t take them, unless they were publicly embarrassed into taking them.

A well written article below highlight some of the embarrassing details:


Another possible option is to stage a high-profile intrusion into some foreign mission and, once inside, demand a safe passage to South Korea. Once South Korean diplomacy is faced with such a crisis, it has no choice but to arrange for the refugees’ removal to Seoul–even if under less dramatic circumstances the South Korean staff would hardly deal with them. However, such an intrusion must be carefully prepared by knowledgeable persons (often the same brokers, actually), since, otherwise, the “gate-crashing” is likely to lead to an arrest and the extradition of its participants, after which the attempted refugees face very serious charges in the North.

Yet another option is to cross the border from China to a third country whose authorities would lobby Seoul for accepting the refugees. An open rejection would be again impossible, so many North Koreans reach Seoul in such a way. The best-known example of this kind was a defection of 468 North Koreans from a “South East Asian country,” soon revealed to be Vietnam, in summer 2004. (26) The details of this incident are still secret at the time of writing, but it seems that Vietnamese authorities demanded that Seoul fly the large number of fugitives out to South Korea, and ROK diplomats could not do anything else, being afraid of losing face if they rejected their own citizens.

The article also detail the ever widen gap between South Korean culture and North Korean culture, and how South Koreans may publicly strongly profess the desire for “reunification”, but it is nothing but a nationalistic facade that means very little in the face of reality.

In reality, South Korea’s “reunification” is a face that they must save, a fairy tale that they maintain for their own citizens, which no one really believes.

(In some twisted world way, South Korea has that in common with North Korea, that they both pretend that they still belong together, and are unable to let each other go.  Perhaps that is the ultimate block to Korean Peace.  Both still cling to “reunification”, yet practically, such a “reunification” may very well lead both to a conflict and decline.)

If both renounced “reunification”, would the war and sanctions be likely be over, or at least lessened in probability?  I think that is a possibility, unfortunately, few will entertain that alternative.

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  1. nic
    December 14th, 2010 at 23:28 | #1

    I do not know enough about the respective cultural differences to comment on the issue of a possible re-unification of PRK and ROK (or, PRC and ROC — even though from a distance these two seem to be closer to each others than the Koreas). Living in Europe I am certainly aware of the difficulties Germany still finds itself in after 20 years.

    Seeing that Spain and Italy and the UK (and others, possibly) are increasingly being torn apart into autonomous regions, while simultaneously integrating more and more into the EU, some people claim that the future might not be ‘nations’ but ‘regions’ in big unions (think “United States (Peoples?) of the World”). I am not certain whether I believe in that perspective at this moment. But at least it seems to look peaceful, and let us not forget that the EU contributed to the longest period of peace central Europe has seen since the beginning of historical records.

    However, and here I am coming back to the OP, I do not think that refugees from the PRK are running away from non-unification.

    My impression is that, independent of unification or not, a future for the PRK that does not motivate people to run away from their country despite all the risks would require an entirely new government. Which in turn would probably only be possible in any reasonable way, if the current government decides to go away (or to radically change itself). I certainly wish the people of the PRK such a kind of development, but … it just doesn’t seem likely right now, in many different ways.

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