Expert urges Seoul to build trust with Beijing, seek informal dialogues
Chinese authorities arresting North Koreans who cross into China intentionally use two different colors of stamps on interrogation documents, a Seoul-based North Korean defector has said.
In doing so, they help North Korean authorities sort out defectors attempting to go to South Korea from other would-be escapees.
Those branded as defectors intending to go to South Korea may face harsher punishment than others once they are repatriated, because they are categorized as political criminals rather than economic migrants.
Kim Seong-min, head of Free North Korea Radio, operated by North Korean defectors in Seoul to send messages to the reclusive state, confirmed a local news report that Beijing lets Pyongyang know the intended destinations of North Korean defectors by stamping the interrogation papers in red or blue as agreed upon with the North.
“Yes, it is true. The Chinese authorities use stamps of tacitly agreed colors. They divide North Korean defectors into two groups ― those headed for the South and ‘kkotjebi’ (those in search of food),” Kim told The Korea Herald.
His comments came at a critical time, when at least 10 North Koreans arrested in China face repatriation to the communist state, despite Seoul’s strongly worded requests to stop repatriations.
South Korean human rights activists and lawmakers are protesting China’s repatriation policy, saying North Korean defectors will be tortured and even executed if sent back.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry is mulling what tone to take when it raises the issue of North Korean defectors at a U.N. panel on human rights next week.
Kim also said that China allows North Korean officers to disguise themselves as Chinese investigators near the border to find out what kind of grudges North Korean defectors hold against the Pyongyang regime.
When Kim was held by the Chinese police near the Tumen River in 1996, he said he was interrogated by three Chinese officers who persuaded him to tell them about how Kim thought about North Korea on the condition that they would not make North Korea send him to a prison camp in Tumen.
“They seemed to show an understanding of my situation and I told them how the North Korean regime was wrong. When I was being sent back to North Korea later, I saw a North Korean officer at the North Korean checkpoint. It was the one who interrogated me,” he said.
Lim Soo-ho, North Korea analyst at the Samsung Economic Research Institute, said there was not much South Korea could do to resolve the North Korean issue with China, unless the Lee Myung-bak administration gains “trust” from Beijing.
Since the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, stronger ties between Seoul and Washington have made Beijing’s relations with Seoul a little bit tense, Lim said.
“Basically, South Korea should build trust with China. Then it can try various unofficial dialogues with China to deal with the issue of North Korean defectors,” he said.
“Repatriation of North Korean defectors is not an issue South Korea can raise as an isolated matter with China.”
By Kim Yoon-mi (email@example.com