border review | 3 April 2012

Crackdown on North Korean refugees – why?

Sokeel J Park, in a commentary for Asia Times, discusses the recent stories of North Korean defectors being sent back by China. He argues that since January this year Chinese authorities have actively been cooperating with the new North Korean leadership to crack down on people fleeing from North Korea.

The Chinese government fears that if they changed their policy towards North Korean defectors, it would be a slap in the face for the North Korean regime. There is a face-saving way around this: instead of changing their official policy, all they need to do is to not actively implement it by not instructing local police forces and security agencies to crack down on refugees.

Indeed, stories of forcibly repatriated North Koreans only do harm to the Party State’s reputation — domestically and abroad. On the other hand, quietly turning a blind eye on refugees coming in does no harm to Chinese interests. I have yet to see a convincing explanation for this shift in policy towards North Korean refugees.