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Week of May 31, 2002

Week of May 31, 2002

The U.S. and China This Week

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INTERNATIONAL: South Korea Embassy Not Willing to Give up Asylum Seekers

Under mounting domestic pressure, South Korea has firmly refused to hand over four recent North Korean asylum seekers who have taken refuge in the South Korean consulate during the past week. According to Chinese law, however, foreign embassies have no legal basis to grant asylum to citizens from a third country. In the past though, China has shown leniency by allowing other North Koreans to leave China and enter South Korea through another country, like Singapore. But recently China has been challenged by defections of 38 North Koreans at various foreign embassies over the past two months. This development has caused diplomatic friction between Beijing and Pyongyang, who have historically been allies.

The latest defections have come days before the World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea, with China participating for the first time. South Korean-based activists have warned of large defection attempts to take place during the soccer finals. China's current hard line approach is hoped to deter those attempts and to discourage any other future mass defections.

Currently South Korean Foreign Ministry officials have been quoted in the media as saying the government was prepared to keep the four North Korean asylum seekers in its Beijing consulate until China allows them to leave the country. This policy has been a break from the hands-off approach Seoul has taken with the more than 320 refugees who have reached South Korean already in the past year.

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CROSS-STRAIT RELATIONS: China Urges Direct Links after Deadly Crash

Following the tragic crash of China Airlines (CAL) flight CI-611 into the Taiwan Strait on May 26th, Chinese state controlled media has encourage Taipei leaders to end a decades-old ban on direct transportation, trade and postal links. Mainland experts on Taiwan were quoted in the reports as saying that Taiwan's failure to push for the opening up the three links would be "tantamount to a criminal act." Talks concerning ending the ban are already in the beginning phases, however many believe a final agreement between the two rivals will take some time.

Meanwhile, China Airlines, Taiwan's largest air carrier, has begun a thorough investigation to determine the cause behind the Boeing 747-200 crash that killed 225 people. Two other aviation experts from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and four from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board have also joined in the investigation. CAL planned to retire its older Boeing model jets from its fleet this year, including selling the ill-fated passenger plane to an airline in Thailand. However, the company has been loudly criticized for its poor safety record after four deadly accidents have taken place over the past eight years. Due to the mass resignation of China Aviation Development Foundation board members after last Saturday's crash, the Transport Minister, Lin Linsan said he would become chairman of the state-controlled foundation, which owns 71 percent of the carrier.

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DOMESTIC: Hong Kong Plans to Make Government Changes

In a late Thursday vote, Hong Kong legislative councilors voted 39 to 19 in favor of a controversial ministerial reform bill that would concentrate power in the hands of Beijing-backed leader Tung Chee-hwa. The vote also cleared the way for an extra HK$43 million a year in funds to be created for 14 new political appointees who would be appointed by Tung.

Critics have raised concerns that the passing of the bill is undemocratic and surrounds Tang with yes-men who are not elected by popular vote and therefore not as easily held accountable for their actions.

The new appointees, called principal officials, will begin work on July 1, the same date Tung begins a second five-year term as Hong Kong's Chief Executive. Tung has complained that Hong Kong's powerful civil service takes too long to implement his decisions and resists change.

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The U.S. and China This Week
The U.S. and China This Week

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