Using Norms Strategically: Transnational Advocacy Networks' Operation for North Korean Human Rights*

By Kwak, Sun-Young; Lee, Yong Wook | Asian Perspective, January 1, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Using Norms Strategically: Transnational Advocacy Networks' Operation for North Korean Human Rights*


Kwak, Sun-Young, Lee, Yong Wook, Asian Perspective


In May 2002, China decided not to repatriate North Korean asylum seekers who fled to Shenyang. The decision was not only in contravention of the 1986 North Korea-China bilateral repatriation agreement, but also constituted China's repudiation of its policy denying refugee status to North Koreans in China. What explains China's change in policy in the Shenyang case? We argue that transnational advocacy networks (TANs) for North Korean human rights (NKHR) played a significant role in China's non-repatriation decision. Theoretically, the article develops a set of five propositions that specify an organizational mechanism through which TANs effectively work, and use social network analysis to test these propositions. Empirically, we employ both qualitative and quantitative methods of analysis (the combination of discourse and content analysis) in order to capture the crucial role of TANs in China's policy change. Thematically, our case study of China's non-repatriation decision reveals the growing importance and relevance of TANs in world politics.

Key words: North Korea, human rights, China, social network analysis, transnational advocacy network

Introduction

In May 2002, China decided not to repatriate North Korean asylum seekers who had fled to Shenyang. The decision not only contravened the 1986 North Korea-China bilateral repatriation agreement; China also repudiated its policy of denying refugee status to North Koreans in China. Previously, China routinely repatriated North Koreans when they were captured within China's borders because it did not recognize their refugee rights.1

What explains the change in China's policy in the Shenyang case? We argue that transnational advocacy networks (TANs) for North Korean human rights (NKHR) played a significant role in bringing about China's policy reversal by their strategic use of human rights norms. Following the scholarship of Keck and Sikkink, we define TANs as networks involving "actors working internationally on an issue, who are bound together by shared values, a common discourse, and dense exchanges of information and services."2 In referring to TANs for NKHR, we specifically mean those advocates from Western Europe, Japan, South Korea, and the United States who promote substantial changes in normative and juridical discourse and policy regarding North Korean human and refugee rights. More specifically, the human rights advocacy network includes citizen organizations and NGOs, such as Durihana Mission, Refuge Pnan, and Citizens Alliance for North Korean Human Rights, as well as individual activists such as Tim Peters from Helping Hands Korea, Pastor Douglas Shin, and German doctor Norbert Vollertsen.

In analyzing the Shenyang case, we aim to contribute to the existing literature of TANs in three major ways: theoretically, methodologically, and thematically. Ever since the seminal publication of Activists Beyond Borders by Keck and Sikkink in 1998, there has been a surge of studies exploring the formation, structure, and campaign strategies and tactics of TANs.3 Yet despite all the attention paid to the role of TANs in influencing policy, we know relatively little about how TANs work to achieve their goals within and between advocacy organizations. Previous studies have tended to posit-without offering a specific organizational mechanism-the efficacy of the "dense," "horizontal," "mediasensitive," "organization-centered," and "Internet communication- based" networking patterns of transnational activists. Also, few studies have examined the dynamics of inter-organizational communications and activities of TANs when they try to influence policy in their target countries.

Our aim is to fill these gaps theoretically and empirically. Theoretically, we develop (or reformulate) a set of five propositions that specify an organizational mechanism through which TANs effectively work. We developed these propositions from a close examination of the existing literature of TANs.

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