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China Seizes Asylum Seeker From South Korean Consulate - 2002-06-13

Chinese police entered a diplomatic facility in Beijing Thursday and dragged a would-be asylum seeker into custody. It is part of a toughening stance by Beijing against people fleeing hunger and repression in neighboring North Korea. Beijing cut off television news transmissions sending footage of the incident overseas.

The two North Korean asylum seekers rushed past Chinese police and barbed wire, trying to join nearly 20 people already hiding in the South Korean consulate in Beijing.

A South Korean official said Chinese police entered the diplomatic grounds and grabbed one of the men. When police held the asylum seeker in a small police outpost on the edge of the grounds, South Koreans surrounded the building. Witnesses said a scuffle broke out as the South Koreans tried to keep the police from taking the man away. The witnesses said one diplomat appeared to have been punched by police officers.

Chinese authorities also cut off foreign television news transmissions showing the incident. Norm Bottoroff, the bureau chief for television news agency APTN in Beijing, said broadcast officials cut off his feed after just one frame.

"This is what happens here routinely. If there's anything that they perceive to be unfavorable, they routinely pull the plug," Mr. Bottoroff said.

Diplomats said consular and embassy offices are foreign territory that Chinese officials can not enter without permission.

A similar recent case at a Japanese consulate sparked an international dispute that eventually saw the asylum seekers sent to South Korea. But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said Beijing now demands that foreign embassies turn over all "trespassers" to police. Mr. Liu said China hopes diplomats will cooperate and turn asylum seekers over to police because, in China's view, embassies do not have the right to grant people asylum.

Analysts said other countries think nations, and by extension, their embassies, do have the right to grant asylum to people who have a realistic fear of persecution. Asylum seekers complain that they face imprisonment and brutal treatment if they are sent back to North Korea.

Thousands of North Koreans have crossed the border and are hiding illegally in China. Dozens of them have burst into diplomatic missions over the past year, demanding asylum and safe passage to South Korea.

China has said they are not refugees deserving special protection, but economic migrants who should be shipped home. Beijing has a treaty with North Korea that calls for the of all refugees it finds.

Nevertheless, a number of asylum seekers who entered embassies recently have been allowed allowed to leave the country and travel to South Korea. But China is now signaling a tougher line against the North Koreans.