Was Blackwater in China?

James Risen’s report in the New York Times on Blackwater’s death threat against State Department investigators in Iraq (and the US embassy’s craven decision to kick out the investigators for being “unsustainably disruptive to day-to-day operations” in response) also includes this interesting passage:

The company’s gung-ho attitude and willingness to take on risky tasks were seductive to government officials in Washington. The State Department, for example, secretly sent Blackwater guards to Shenyang, China, to provide security for North Korean asylum seekers who had gone to the U.S. Consulate there and refused to leave for fear the Chinese government would force them to go back to North Korea, according to company documents and interviews with former Blackwater personnel.

The backstory for the Shenyang job is presumably the flood of economic and political refugees from North Korea during the famine years of the early 2000s.  Some refugees tried to get into various consulates in Shenyang as well as embassies in Beijing, and hope that they could obtain some kind of asylum/entry into a sympathetic foreign country instead of facing repatriation to North Korea.

Antoaneta Bezlova wrote the story for IPS in 2002 (via Asia Times Online):

The attempt by the family of five North Koreans to enter the Japanese consulate in Shenyang is the latest in a string of cases. On the weekend, two North Koreans entered the Canadian embassy in Beijing to seek sanctuary. The swelling flow of North Korean asylum seekers in China comes following the daring and successful asylum bid of 25 refugees who rushed into the Spanish embassy in Beijing in March. They were later allowed to leave the country and gained passage to South Korea through the Philippines. More attempts have followed. Last month, a North Korean sought asylum in Beijing’s German Embassy after scrambling over a two-meter wall into its compound, while two other North Koreans gained entry into the US mission. All three subsequently were sent on to South Korea.

The wave of asylum bids has been highly publicized in the foreign press as they offer a rare glimpse into the secretive society of poverty-wracked North Korea, which is plagued by a lack of food, heat and medicine. Between 250,000 and 300,000 refugees are believed to be in the hiding in the northern Chinese provinces bordering North Korea.

The PRC pushed back aggressively to control the influx of asylum seekers. The most troubling incident occurred at the Japanese consulate in Shenyang. Chinese police seized three family members as they tried to rush through a half-open gate at the consulate; two adults made it inside and police walked into the consulate and arrested them, without any apparent resistance from the consulate staff.

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