‘China halts repatriation of defectors‘
By Kim Young-jin
China has apparently suspended its repatriation of North Korean defectors in response to Pyongyang’s failed rocket launch, a Japanese newspaper reported Wednesday.
The report by Yomiuri Shimbun quoted a Chinese official as saying the long-held policy had been overturned because Pyongyang failed to consult with Beijing over the launch.
Beijing, a key ally of the impoverished North, has long argued that it does not consider North Korean defectors refugees but rather illegal economic migrants. Human rights groups say those who are repatriated to the North are subject to harsh punishment including torture and even death.
The North raised international ire last week with the launch, which it said was to put a satellite into orbit but the international community regarded as a ballistic missile test.
On Monday, China backed a U.N. Security Council (UNSC) statement deploring the North’s launch. Seoul officials said Beijing, a permanent member of the council and Pyongyang’s closest ally, cooperated more quickly than expected, signaling its apparent displeasure over the act.
Beijing, which has often been criticized for protecting its provocative neighbor, has hinted at a tougher stand on Pyongyang in recent weeks.
Earlier this month, it allowed a group of five North Korean defectors, including one family, to travel to the South after hiding for years at a South Korean consulate in China, in an apparent bid to ratchet up pressure on Pyongyang.
During the 2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit in March, President Hu Jintao urged the North to refrain from the launch and instead concentrate on improving living conditions for its people instead.
Over 23,000 defectors have been granted citizenship in the South.
The repatriation issue grabbed headlines earlier this year on the back of grassroots campaigning to save a group of some 30 North Koreans who were caught by Chinese authorities as they attempted to flee their Stalinist homeland.
Analysts say Beijing repatriates North Koreans despite international pressure due to concerns about the prospect of an increasing flow of refugees across its border as well as its ties with Pyongyang.