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China Criticizes S. Korea for Closing Consulate in Beijing - 2003-10-09


China is criticizing South Korea for closing its consulate in Beijing because it is overloaded with North Korean refugees.

China has publicly criticized South Korea's decision to close its consulate in Beijing. South Korea said it had no choice because its diplomatic staff can no longer cope with the presence of more than 100 North Korean asylum seekers.

South Korean diplomats hope that the closure will spur China to speed up the approval process that will allow the North Koreans safe passage out of China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue told reporters in Beijing that the closure is not conducive to strong diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Ms. Zhang notes that the Chinese government has already expressed its displeasure over the consulate closure to the South Korean government. She says China is working with the South Koreans to solve the problem, although she maintained China's long-standing policy that North Koreans who enter China are illegal economic immigrants subject to repatriation and are not legitimate refugees.

China has been put in a difficult diplomatic position in the past few years, as activists have been helping North Koreans seek asylum in embassy compounds in Beijing, instead of smuggling them directly to South Korea.

Beijing has eventually approved safe passage to South Korea, via a third country, for scores of North Koreans hiding in diplomatic compounds. But it has made clear it wants the flow of refugees to stop.

Analysts say the issue strains Beijing's influence with North Korea, as China is one of the Stalinist state's last allies.

The last asylum issue comes at a delicate time in negotiations with North Korea over its controversial nuclear weapons program.

China has taken the diplomatic lead in hosting multi-party talks with the United States, Japan, Russia, and South Korea. Beijing is trying to get Pyongyang to agree to another round soon.

South Korea hopes to use high-level talks next week to persuade the North to ease tensions over its nuclear weapons programs. The nuclear dispute flared last October when U.S. officials said North Korea admitted running a secret nuclear-weapons program in violation of international agreements.

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