North Korea

Seoul presses China over status of North Korean defectors

Beijing unsure how to treat couple who fled North Korea to live in South, then returned

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 August, 2013, 1:41am

China is caught in a diplomatic quandary over how to treat North Korean defector Kim Kwang-ho and his family, who were arrested in the northeastern city of Yanji last month.

What complicates Kim's case is the fact that he and his wife originally defected from the North in August 2009 and settled in South Korea in March 2010.

Chinese authorities are trying to determine whether Kim, his wife, Kim Ok-sil, and their one-year-old daughter should be treated as North Korean citizens or as South Koreans.

Kim's daughter was born in South Korea and the family had been living in the southwestern city of Mokpo until last October, the South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo reported.

South Korean media reported that Kim returned to North Korea in October last year to help bring his sister- and brother-in-law to the South.

He decided to go himself instead of hiring brokers, who are commonly employed to help would-be defectors leave North Korea, in order to save money, according to the reports.

But in January this year, Kim and his wife and daughter were seen at a press conference aired by North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency, criticising South Korea.

Nothing was known about them till the family was arrested in China on July 14 along with Kim's sister- and brother-in-law.

South Korea last month officially requested a face-to-face meeting with Kim, his wife and his daughter - all of whom are South Korean citizens - and asked Beijing to treat Kim's sister- and brother-in-law in a humanitarian manner.

Chinese authorities have yet to respond to the request.

Last week, a spokesman for South Korea's foreign ministry, Cho Tai-young, said: "The Republic of Korea government deems it regrettable that the issue still remains unresolved. However, please understand that I cannot give you more details about it."

A spokesman at the Chinese foreign ministry told the South China Morning Post yesterday that there was no further information available.

The treatment of North Korean refugees is a sensitive issue between the foreign ministries of China and South Korea.

Beijing - against the wishes of Seoul - routinely repatriates North Korean defectors who have been detained in China.

When South Korean President Park Geun-hye visited China in June, she asked Beijing to take a humanitarian approach in its treatment of North Korean defectors.

With additional reportingby Chris Luo