The Chinese government has halted the repatriation of North Korean defectors, apparently in response to South Korean requests and because it is angry that the North went ahead with its rocket launch.
The Yomiuri Shimbun on Wednesday cited an official from China's Liaoning Province as saying China, which had been repatriating up to 30 North Korean defectors a day since the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in December, recently stopped doing so.
"North Korea failed to inform China of specific plans to launch its missile last Friday," another Chinese official told the Japanese daily, which added that Beijing’s anger at being kept in the dark played a role in the decision to stop the repatriations. "Although it is unclear when Beijing stopped repatriation, it is certain no more defectors were sent back to North Korea," the paper said.
China drew condemnation from international human rights groups by claiming the defectors were not political refugees but merely economic migrants searching for work.
But the daily said Beijing's stance appears to have changed since Chinese President Hu Jintao met his South Korean counterpart Lee Myung-bak on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul last month, when Hu pledged to "respect" the South's request to stop repatriating them.
"China does seem to be unhappy about North Korea's recent behavior," said one government official here. "We are trying to verify whether China has stopped repatriating them."