China to crack down on foreigners

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China to crack down on foreigners

China is planning to strengthen its crackdown on foreigners illegally entering, residing or working in the country, according to Chinese state media.

The South Korean government and its civic groups are watching the move with concern as it will affect the repatriation of North Korean defectors.

A bill that stipulates harsher punishments on foreigners who enter or exit China illegally was submitted to the China’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on Tuesday, Xinhua News Agency reported on Wednesday.

China’s Vice Minister of Public Security Yang Huanning said based on the bill, China would bolster its management of illegal entry, residence or employment of foreigners, Xinhua said.

The crackdown, Yang said, includes increasing border control, repatriating illegal foreigners and setting up repatriation centers, Xinhua said.

The law does not specify the nationalities of the foreigners, but South Korean activists say North Korean defectors, who make up a sizable portion of illegal foreigners in China, will be heavily affected by it.

“If you are asking whether North Korean defectors fall into this category, yes they do,” an official of the South Korean Embassy in China told the Korea JoongAng Daily by phone yesterday, although he said it is uncertain how China’s new law will affect North Korean defectors.

There were nearly 600,000 foreigners living in China for more than six months in 2011, according to Xinhua. Some civic groups in the South estimate the number of North Korean defectors living in China at more than 100,000. Yang said most illegal foreigners are from neighboring countries, Xinhua said.

China’s move came days after a report by Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun that China has suspended repatriating North Korean defectors to punish the North for not informing China in advance of its plan for a long-range rocket launch, which it botched on April 13.

Kim Hee-tae, secretary of a Seoul-based civic group called “Assembly to Improve the Human Rights Condition in North Korea,” said the Yomiuri’s report was false and China’s repatriation of North Koreans will continue.

“We secured information that a nine-member North Korean family arrested in China in late March was repatriated to Sinuiju (North Korea’s northwestern city) via Dandong as late as April 3,” Kim said. He claimed that three North Korean defectors were newly arrested in China’s southwestern province of Yunnan on April 19.

“China seems to be getting tougher on North Korean defectors and we are concerned with it,” said Kim, urging the Chinese government to abide by the international treaties on the protection of refugees. China, the North’s closest ally, claims they are economic migrant workers, not political refugees. North Korean defectors are known to face the death penalty or long terms in political prisons after being repatriated to their country.

By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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