September 26, 2020

The Impact of Protests – More Harm Than Good?

Over recent months the defector repatriation issue has jumped to the top of the agenda for many DPRK experts and the press. A surge of protests against Chinese repatriation of North Korean defectors began in earnest last month, and since then has gone from strength to strength. Numbers have increased, as has the fame of those involved. Celebrities ranging from lawmaker Park Sun-young to actor Cha In-pyo have given the demonstrations much needed media appeal. It took a while, but politicians soon also weighed in to the matter, with the South Korean Government sending representatives to discuss the matter directly with China, as well as raising the issue with the UNHRC. A general discussion and strongly worded comments from the UN were par for the course, but the U.S. senate calling an emergency hearing and then taking up the incident was a surprisingly serious response. Essentially, the protests seemed to be picking up steam and support from all sides.

However, as NKNews reported recently, this pressure has sadly not dented China's policy on defectors, which it sees as “economic migrants”. The pace and scope of China's repatriation continues unabated. With no change of policy on the horizon, it may be time to ask an uncomfortable and admittedly depressing question: what have the protests achieved?