Chongryon’s trouble

Korea Herald

The General Association of (pro-Pyongyang) Korean Residents in Japan or Chongryon (Jochongnyeon) is in the most serious trouble since its founding half a century ago. The Tokyo District Court on Monday ordered it to repay 62.7 billion yen (about $780 million) to a Japanese official debt-collection agency and allowed the agency to seize the premises housing Chongryon headquarters in Tokyo. If and when the Resolution and Collection Corp. starts procedures to impound the property, Chongryon will face eviction.

RCC took over non-performing loans from a Chongryon-affiliated credit union upon its bankruptcy, and filed a suit to have Chongryon repay them on the grounds that the loans had in effect been channeled to the Korean residents’ association. Chongryon asserted that the suit was politically motivated to deprive it of its headquarters building and force its dissolution. The judge rejected the claim and ruled in favor of RCC.

The Japanese media has extensively covered the suit as well as an unsuccessful attempt by Chongryon to turn over the ownership of the premises to a Japanese investment advisory firm headed by a former government intelligence chief in order to avoid seizure of the property. Ownership was transferred in the official registry, but no actual payment was made in the fake sale, and the transfer was canceled before the court ruling.

Chongryon, which has served as North Korea’s virtual embassy in Japan in the absence of diplomatic relations between Tokyo and Pyongyang, has funneled funds to the North collected from Korean firms and individuals affiliated with it. Japanese government’s and civil society’s antagonism toward it grew over the past few years as a result of the disclosure of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals, its nuclear arms development and occasional test-firing of missiles toward and over Japan.

Japan’s “right turn” in recent days has curtailed Chongryon’s activities on political and social levels. Since Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara lifted tax exemption on Chongryon facilities, other autonomous bodies have followed suit, causing deeper financial woes to the organization. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to cut ties between Pyongyang and Chongryon as he believed the residents’ association was instrumental in North Korea’s illicit operations in Japan.

Under these circumstances, Mindan or the pro-Seoul Korean Residents’ Association in Japan sought amity with Chongryon and the two organizations issued a “joint statement” on May 17 last year agreeing on steps toward reconciliation and concord, including joint observation of the Aug. 15 liberation anniversary. That accord, however, has not produced practical results.

The impending seizure of the Chongryon headquarters in Tokyo in lieu of debt payment will hasten the decline of the organization. The Tokyo court ruling will be followed by similar court actions against provincial Chongryon chapters that are more or less in similar situations. Japanese media reported that nine of 29 major Chongryon facilities across the country have already been seized by the Resolution and Collection Corp.

Young affiliates of Chongryon are leaving the organization or naturalizing in Japan in increasing numbers. Older Chongryon Koreans who had lived with the fantasy of a “socialist paradise” in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula up until the 1980s have long lost their pride. They are now seeing their once beloved fatherland still demanding contributions from their expatriates in Japan when their organization is facing eviction and eventual dissolution. It is a bitter irony that some Japanese liberals are protesting to their government for what they call the political persecution of Chongryon.


Comments are closed.