SHENYANG, China--North Korean agents are searching for and detaining defectors from the reclusive country hiding on the Chinese side of their shared border, all with the blessing of Beijing, The Asahi Shimbun has learned.
Under its previous policy, Chinese authorities captured and repatriated North Korean defectors themselves. But, according to sources familiar with the inner workings of China’s security structure, local officials in the country’s northeastern region that shares a border with North Korea are allowing the North Korean Ministry of State Security and other authorities to conduct the searches.
North Korean officials still need to seek permission before entering the country. But once in China, Chinese authorities are even providing vehicles for the North Korean agents to be used in the searches, the sources said.
“The international community has criticized Beijing, saying deported North Korean defectors are being executed in their country,” said a governmental source in northeastern China. “Several years ago, Chinese security authorities stopped taking actions on their own to capture the defectors.”
The agents representing Pyongyang are allowed to conduct their searches over several days, according to the sources.
After detaining their targets, they quickly return the defectors back across the border.
According to North Koreans who have fled to China, some defectors who were hiding at an inn near the border in late March abruptly disappeared.
Pyongyang trains detained defectors as spies in order to glean information on escaping nationals. Defectors in China disappear almost every month, the North Koreans said.
The number of North Korean nationals who have fled to China has been rising since the start of this year, said a border security insider in the Chinese military.
Beijing and Pyongyang have a treaty that allows cooperation on criminal matters, but it does not allow either side to conduct investigations and arrests in each other’s territory.
A South Korean government source pointed out the possibility the two nations have signed a special agreement concerning defectors from the North.
“Security sections in Beijing and Pyongyang may have reached some type of deal (on defectors),” the source in Seoul said.
The South Korean Consulate General in Shenyang, Liaoning province, in late March, issued a warning to its nationals that said, “Abduction cases by the North’s agents have recently been reported in the border zone between China and North Korea.”
In February, the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) released its final report that called on surrounding countries, such as China, to give protection to those fleeing the reclusive state.
The U.N. Human Rights Council in March adopted a resolution condemning North Korea, and ordered the U.N. Security Council to consider pursuing action, such as additional sanctions, against officials in Pyongyang responsible for violating human rights.
The Chinese government, however, opposed the March resolution. Its foreign ministry also took issue with the commission’s final report, arguing, “China has consistently taken necessary steps based on domestic legislation, international law and humanitarianism.”
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