SEOUL, March 31 (Yonhap) -- A South Korean Army deserter who smuggled himself into Japan in 1969 with the aim of defecting to North Korea sparked a diplomatic row between Seoul and Tokyo over his repatriation, declassified diplomatic documents showed Sunday.
Army Pfc. Chung Hoon-sang, then 26 years old, decamped from active service in South Korea and stowed away on a cargo ship to the port of Kobe on Aug. 7, 1969, but was caught by Japanese authorities.
During an interrogation, Chung appealed to the Japanese government to recognize him as an asylum-seeker, arguing that he would face the death penalty if he was sent back to South Korea.
Chung was indicted for violating Japanese immigration laws and was tried by the Kobe District Court, according to the documents.
South Korea requested Japan to immediately repatriate Chung to Seoul, but Japan refused to do so, citing its law that guarantees foreign nationals the right to choose their destination when they are expelled from Japan.
"The consistent position of the Republic of Korea has been that under no circumstances Koreans be sent, directly or indirectly, through a third country, to communist-occupied northern part of Korea from Japan," the South Korean embassy in Japan said in a three-page letter to Tokyo. The Republic of Korea is the official name of South Korea.
"The government of the Republic of Korea, therefore, strongly requests that the government of Japan deliver him to the Republic of Korea at the earliest date."
"Furthermore, it is emphasized that the earliest return of the said person to the Republic of Korea through normal procedures hitherto applied in general to illegal Korean entrants would certainly help prevent the occurrence of any possible unwelcome situation and contribute to the promotion of the cordial relations that so happily exist between our two countries," the letter said.
The documents were revealed Sunday as part of the South Korean foreign ministry's annual release of diplomatic documents after 30 years of confidentiality.
Despite diplomatic efforts by South Korea, Chung was deported to Moscow on Dec. 26, 1970 and defected to North Korea.
Four days later, South Korea condemned the decision by Japan as "highly regrettable" and lodged "an energetic protest" against Tokyo.
In a "note verbale," Seoul's foreign ministry also said, "It is the view of the Korean government that the action taken by the Japanese authorities concerned has shown that the territory of Japan could be utilized by some Korean stowaways as a route to the northern part of Korea, and that, if such situation prevails, it cannot but harm the friendly relations between the two countries."
The tale of Chung was widely reported by the Japanese media at that time, but was little known in South Korea.
In 2001, a North Korean state broadcaster reported that Chung appeared on a TV program.
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