Beijing allowed restaurant staff to exit by planeChina knew about the 13 North Korean defectors who arrived in Seoul last Thursday but did nothing to stop them, a South Korean intelligence source indicated on Tuesday.
“The 13 escaped the Ryugyong restaurant in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, early on April 6 and moved to Shanghai, where they went through the normal departure process, then left to a Southeast Asian country,” the source, who asked not to be named, said.
It took two hours by car to move to Shanghai, which is 210 kilometers (130 miles) from Ningbo.
“Right after they arrived in that country, they took a plane bound for South Korea and landed at Incheon International Airport.”
One male manager of a North Korean state-run restaurant in Ningbo, and 12 of his female employees, defected to the South last Thursday, as sanctions against North Korea forced customers to stay away. It was the single-largest group of North Korean defectors under Kim Jong-un’s leadership. Allegedly, the restaurant was pressured to remit the same amount of money even after customers stopped coming.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lu Kang said on Monday, “13 DPRK citizens were found exiting the Chinese border with valid passports early in the morning of April 6,” in a rare confirmation by the Chinese government that North Korean defectors had fled from China.
“DPRK” is the acronym for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“It is worth noting these people all had valid IDs with them and exited the Chinese border in accordance with the law. They are not DPRK citizens who illegally entered Chinese territory,” the spokesman said at a regular briefing, adding that China will properly deal with the issue in compliance with international laws, domestic laws and humanitarian principles.
The Chinese government of Zhejiang province dismissed North Korea’s complaints, blaming the lax security of Chinese police and saying that China isn’t responsible for apprehending people who have legal passports.
Experts believe the fact that North Korean defectors could transfer from Ningbo to Shanghai while trying to defect from the Pyongyang regime indicates that the Chinese government, or its police, must have been compliant, suggesting that the tie between China and North Korea has recently soured.
“It is meaningful that the Chinese government especially stressed that this was legal, adding to the rare official confirmation of the defection,” said a South Korean government source, saying it reflects a crack in the relationship between the two communist allies.
Beijing, the only ally of Pyongyang, has been famous for repatriating North Koreans caught trying to defect, but recently China has loosened the reins on North Koreans who illegally stay in China or try to leave for other countries.
However, signs of discord between the traditional allies have increased recently as North Korea has stepped up the development of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.
BY KIM HYOUNG-GU, KIM SO-HEE [email@example.com]