China-Japan End Standoff Over North Korean Defectors

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - Five North Koreans arrested by Chinese police while seeking asylum in a Japanese mission have been allowed to fly to freedom in South Korea, reports from the Philippines say.

Their flight to Seoul via the Philippines on Wednesday ends a diplomatic row between China and Japan.

Police nabbed the two men, two woman and a toddler inside the compound of the Japanese Consulate in Shenyang, north-eastern China on May 8.

Japan accused the Chinese of violating international conventions and demanded the five be handed over, while Beijing maintained its police entered the mission only to protect it from suspicious intruders, and had the go-ahead of Japanese officials to do so.

Seeking new lives in a democracy, a growing number of North Koreans living illegally in China have tried to make their way to South Korea via Western embassies.

China has allowed them to fly to South Korea via third countries, while tightening security in diplomatic areas in a bid to prevent further defections.

Earlier this month, members of the U.S. House of Representatives International Relations Committee sent a letter to the Chinese ambassador in Washington urging Beijing not to repatriate North Koreans seeking asylum, saying that those who are sent back are "usually executed or sent to camps for political prisoners."

More than 312 North Korean defectors had reached South Korea so far this year, already exceeding the total for the whole of 2000. In 2001, the number was 583 - the highest since the years immediately following the 1950-53 Korean War.

As many as seven million Koreans are believed to be kept apart from family members by the heavily-guarded border dividing the peninsula.

See earlier stories:
As N. Korean Asylum Row Drags On, Japan's Role Criticized (May 16, 2002)
Chinese Police Drag N. Korean Defectors Out Of Foreign Mission (May 10, 2002)

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow