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Fate of 9 N. Korean refugees in China will show where Seoul-Beijing ties stand

Fate of 9 N. Korean refugees in China will show where Seoul-Beijing ties stand

Posted November. 19, 2015 08:35,   


Nine North Korean escapees who attempted to defect to South Korea are on the verge of being repatriated to the North after being deported from Vietnam to China last month. It is said that the North Koreans, who have been transported to Tumen, Jilin Province in China near the border with the North, include a North Korean military captain and a one-year-old boy. There is no doubt that the North Koreans who escaped their country at the risk of their own lives for political or economic reasons will receive harsh punishments if they get repatriated. Seoul should make every diplomatic effort possible to dissuade Beijing from repatriating them to the North against their will.

Since Kim Jong Un took power in North Korea, the communist state has significantly strengthened its crackdown on escapees by transferring border guard duty from the Ministry of the People`s Armed Forces to the State Security Department. Barbed wires and surveillance cameras have been installed on major escape routes. It is rumored that the increased risks have more than tripled North Korean escapees` river-crossing expenses. Such difficulties have resulted in the reduction in the number of North Korean defectors to the South to less than 100 on monthly average for the first time in 12 years.

Typically, North Korean escapees flee to China before arriving at the South via a third country. Once they get caught by China`s public security officials, their expensive attempts go down the drain. China refuses to recognize North Korean escapees as international refugees, considering them temporary border crossers for economic reasons. China sometimes turns a blind eye to North Korean escapees if they are in small groups or there is little international attention paid to them. If not, Beijing takes inhumane measures to repatriate escapees to the North under an agreement with Pyongyang. As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, China is obligated to abide by the U.N. recommendation that no North Korean escapees should be forcefully repatriated.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Asia-Pacific Economic Meeting this week and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang at a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations plus three (ASEAN+3) this weekend. If the Seoul-Beijing relationship is at its best ever, President Park should ask the Chinese leaders to stop repatriating North Korean escapees, and Beijing should accept the request. Park raised the issue of North Korean escapees` human rights at a summit with Xi in June 2013. How Beijing treats North Korean escapees this time would show where the Seoul-Beijing ties stand.