Chinese security forces launched a massive crackdown on North Korean defectors in Jilin Province's Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture on May 15.
Chinese officials say the crackdown is part of a nationwide bust of illegal aliens, but there are suspicions that the drive specifically targets North Korean defectors hiding out in northeastern China as well as South Korean activists and religious organizations who are helping them.
Beijing in March arrested South Korean activist Kim Young-hwan (49) on the vague charge of threatening national security.
Security forces in Yanbian told reporters the crackdown will continue until October and aims to wipe out all the places where North Korans hide, Chinese media reported on Thursday. "Due to its proximity to the border [with North Korea], Yanbian has been the scene of illegal border crossings and other crimes," said Yanbian immigration chief Li Yong-xue. "If we find illegal immigrants or foreigners without proper documentation, we will investigate immediately."
He also pledged to "root out activities by foreign NGOs or religious activists that violate laws or have a negative impact on national security and social stability."
North Korean defectors caught in Yanbian or neighboring areas are expected to be arrested and sent back to the North, while South Koreans who help them worry about criminal investigation and deportation.
Around 10,000-15,000 defectors and other illegal migrants from the North are believed to be living in Yanbian. Some 10,000 South Koreans live there as well. "State security agents already informed Korean residents groups there that they will boost screening of immigration and residency requirements," said one South Korean businessman in Yanbian. "North Korean defectors here are going into hiding."