Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik on Tuesday urged China not to send North Korean defectors back to North Korea because of the treatment they face there when they are repatriated. Yu was meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi in Beijing.
Yu also asked for China's cooperation "so that defectors can reach South Korea as soon as possible at their own free will."
Yang merely replied China will handle the issue of North Korean defectors "in accordance with domestic law, international law, and humanitarian principles."
China was recently reported to have cracked down on a growing influx of North Korean defectors, arresting about 20 defectors in Shenyang in September and allegedly being poised to repatriate 23 others, including three children, who were arrested in Qingdao, Zhengzhou, Dandong, and Kunming recently.
Yu also met Wang Jiarui, the director of the Chinese Communist Party's International Liaison Department who is in charge of relations with the North Korean Workers Party. "Nobody knows for sure whether the next South Korean government will be favorable to the North. The North will have to wait two-and-a-half years until the next government seeks full-fledged dialogue," Yu told Wang. "It's probably well aware that is a very long time when the global situation is changing rapidly and the North is in dire straits."
Meanwhile, State Councilor Dai Bingguo, who deals with South Korean affairs, said China and South Korea should start free-trade talks on the anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations in 2012.