Two-time North Korean defectors detained in China are in limbo

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 August, 2013, 7:24pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 August, 2013, 9:52pm


China is in a diplomatic quandary on how to treat North Korean defector Kim Kwang-ho and his family who were arrested by public security officials 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 his 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, reported South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo.

South Korean media reported that Kim return 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, said South Korean media.

His wife and his daughter were reportedly waiting for Kim in China, near the border with North Korea but in late January this year, Kim and his family were spotted in a press conference aired by North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency, in which he criticised South Korea.

Then, he and his family members left North Korea at an unidentified time and were arrested in China on July 14.

South Korean diplomats put in an official request last month to have 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 spokesperson 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 spokesperson at the Chinese foreign ministry told SCMP on Tuesday that there was no information available regarding the issue.

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 reporting by Chris Luo