Chinese Security Agents Disrupt South Korean Visitors' Press Conference

January 14, 2005

Chinese security agents disrupted a news conference Wednesday organized by visiting South Korean legislators in Beijing, according to an article in the Washington Post. Four Korean lawmakers called the press conference to urge the Chinese government to cease forcible repatriation of North Korean refugees and to release South Korean activists jailed in China for helping North Korean refugees relocate to South Korea. Though the Chinese Communist Party often prohibits discussion of sensitive topics, it rarely interferes in events sponsored by foreign dignitaries. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman condemned the lawmakers “illegal” behavior, emphasizing that only one of the legislators was visiting in an official capacity.

The Chinese government is concerned with the rising number of North Koreans fleeing into northeastern China, an area already plagued by one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates. The Chinese government is bound by the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees to allow refugees to seek asylum and in 1995 signed a bilateral agreement with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, granting the UNHCR unimpeded access to all refugees. The Chinese government has barred the UNHCR from the border areas, however, insisting that North Koreans entering China are seeking economic betterment and are, therefore, not refugees. Human rights groups have shown that those forced to return to North Korea are often tortured or executed.

In October 2004 the United States Congress passed the North Korea Human Rights Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-333). In addition to allocating up to $20 million annually for humanitarian assistance to North Korean refugees, Congress urged the UNHCR to insist that China grant the UNHCR access to refugees and to invoke the binding arbitration clause in the 1995 agreement if China refuses. The Chinese government has shown no evidence of changing its repatriation policy.