Almost daily, a batch of bento boxed meals is quietly carried past the Chinese sentry at the gates of the Japanese Consulate-General in Shenyang, China, for “guests” in a drab two-story building located deep within the compound.
The guests are defectors from North Korea who have sought refuge inside the compound.
The Japanese Embassy in Beijing and the consulate-general in Shenyang have been forced to take in dozens of defectors who have barged through gates and scaled walls seeking refuge.
According to a government source, defections have risen since the late 1990s, soon after famine gripped North Korea. Japan has taken in more than 160 defectors, many of whom are Japanese or ethnic Koreans who emigrated to North Korea from Japanese soil. Beijing officially insists that no refugee situation exists between China and North Korea.
The situation forces the Japanese diplomatic corps to act with secrecy and, as a result, the government has yet to seriously debate how to deal with the problem.
Both Tokyo and Beijing have bitter memories of an ill-fated attempt by five North Korean defectors to seek refuge at the Shenyang Consulate-General in 2002, an incident which drew an international outcry. Japanese officials watched impotently as Chinese security officials hauled the defectors from the gates of the compound and took them into custody.