China is rejecting the charge of a U.N. human rights inquiry that suggested Beijing was aiding and abetting crimes against humanity by returning defectors to its ally, North Korea.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Tuesday that China cannot accept what she called the "unreasonable accusation" made in the inquiry's report published a day earlier.
The U.N. report said many North Koreans forcibly repatriated by China have been subject to torture, summary execution and various forms of sexual violence upon their return to Pyongyang.
Beijing has long portrayed North Korean defectors as criminals or economic migrants. At a daily news briefing, Hua said the Chinese government does not refer to them as "refugees," but as "illegal border crossers."
China has said 20,000 to 30,000 "illegal border crossers" entered its territory from North Korea in recent years, but the true number is believed to be far greater - 200,000 or more. Most of those North Koreans disguise their national identities and try to avoid contact with Chinese authorities. The flow of clandestine refugees has increased greatly since the famine that wrecked much of North Korea's economy in the 1990s.
They were fleeing a country whose leaders were described in the U.N. report Monday as committing crimes against humanity without "any parallel in the contemporary world."
The report said North Korea has systematically exterminated, tortured and enslaved its people, ordered forced abortions, and persecuted people on political, religious, racial and gender grounds.
It called for the international community to take urgent action to refer the North Korean government to the International Criminal Court for prosecution. It has also suggested the establishment of an ad hoc U.N. tribunal.
But even before the report's release, China, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, said it would veto any such move.
North Korean diplomats in Geneva dismissed the report, saying it was an "instrument of a political plot aimed at sabotaging the socialist system."