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US Discusses China’s Repatriation of North Koreans, Expresses Concerns

Published: May 14, 2024
U.S. Deputy Special Representative Jung Pak speaks in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024. (Image: Ahn Young-joon/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo)

The U.S. State Department said the senior U.S. official for North Korea met with her Chinese counterpart in Tokyo on Thursday, May 9, and expressed concerns about the forcible repatriation of North Koreans from China.

The meeting between Jung Pak and China’s Special Representative on Korean Peninsula Affairs, Liu Xiaoming, followed last month’s visit to Beijing by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Pak stressed concern about North Korea’s deepening military cooperation with Russia, and noted its “provocative and irresponsible rhetoric toward its neighbors.” She said Russia’s veto of a mandate extension for a U.N. panel that monitored North Korea sanctions would damage efforts to implement U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The U.S. State Department added: “She also expressed continued U.S. concerns regarding the forcible repatriation of North Koreans, including asylum seekers, to the DPRK and called on Beijing to uphold its non-refoulement obligations.” 

Acccording to The U.N. principle of “non-refoulement”, “no one should be returned to a country where they would face torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and other irreparable harm.”

Last December, according to a human rights group based in North Korea, up to 600 people had “vanished” after being forcibly deported back by Communist China, and they may face imprisonment, torture, sexual violence, and execution.

The report, filed by the “Transitional Justice Working Group”, came out about two months after South Korea protested with China over the suspected repatriation of a large number of North Koreans, who were trying to flee to the South.

In October, Beijing’s foreign ministry said North Korean citizens had illegally entered the country for economic reasons and such were not afforded the rights of refugees, and that “China always handled the issue according to the law.”

Pak had spoken to Liu in February, following a previous Feb. 16 meeting between Blinken and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi. During that meeting the U.S. side said the two counterparts “affirmed the importance of continued communication on (North Korea) issues at all levels.”

In recent months Sino-U.S. relations have shown signs of improvement to re-establish communication channels, after diplomatic relations sank to their lowest levels in decades. Many points of friction remain, including Beijing’s close relations with Russia.

In Tokyo, Jung Pak also discussed North Korea with South Korean and Japanese counterparts, and reiterated the importance of maintaining close trilateral cooperation between the countries in addressing the threat it posed. 

Reuters contributed to this report.