News / Asia

    Four South Koreans Being Held in China

    Protesters rally for North Korean defectors near the Chinese embassy in Seoul, March 3, 2012.
    Protesters rally for North Korean defectors near the Chinese embassy in Seoul, March 3, 2012.
    SEOUL - South Korea's foreign ministry says China has been holding four of its citizens in Dandong, activists linked to North Korean refugees, since their arrest March 29 in Dalian.

    Spokesman Cho Byung-je says Seoul is asking Beijing to handle the case in a fair and swift manner.

    "South Korea understands that the investigation is proceeding based on procedures under Chinese law," said Cho, who did not comment on specific accusations because formal charges have yet to be levied.

    The group appears to have been in contact with North Korean refugees in northeastern China to find about life and conditions in their homeland.

    Seoul-based activists said at least one of the detained men, Kim Young-hwan, a prominent and controversial figure in human rights circles in South Korea, is likely to face spying charges.

    Kim, an independent researcher with the Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights, known as NKnet, is best known for clandestinely boarding a North Korean submarine in 1991 in order to meet the country's founder, Kim Il Sung. He later renounced his support for Pyongyang's ideology and became a strong critic of the reclusive country's human rights abuses.

    The other South Korean detainees are identified as Yu Jae Gil, Kang Shin Sam and Lee Sang Yong.

    Park Jin-keol, director of NKnet's international department, said South Koreans who assist North Koreans in China do face danger, but that they are rarely arrested for spying.

    "In other cases, usually these people are not charged with espionage," he said. "Based on what Mr. Kim has been writing in South Korea, he never argued against the Chinese government. He only advocated human rights and the well-being of North Koreans. So we suspect that North Korean spy agencies or authorities are deeply involved in this incident by charging Mr. Kim and other people [in China] for espionage.”

    South Korea's foreign ministry said one of its diplomats was able to meet Kim on April 26, but that Chinese officials said the other three men declined to meet with anyone from the consulate.

    Park said he doesn't believe the latter statement.

    "It's very unusual and it does not make whole sense to refuse meeting with consul," he said. "So we suspect this information is fabricated or not true."

    When asked about the situation after it had been widely reported in South Korea, China's foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei pleaded a lack of knowledge and said he needed to get details before responding.

    South Koreans, especially Christian missionaries, frequently seek to help tens of thousands of North Koreans believed to be residing in China. While some are attempting to make their way to a third country with the hopes of then defecting to South Korea, many others are in hiding and trying to make money.

    If caught, North Koreans are usually forcibly repatriated as economic migrants, a process rights groups oppose on allegations that they face harsh treatment upon returning home.

    Steve Herman

    A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

    You May Like

    Turkey, West in Standoff Over Syrian Refugees

    Turkish government refuses to admit refugees, the first in a wave of civilians fleeing offensive by Assad regime in northern Aleppo countryside

    Jailed American Testifies About Islamist Involvement in Mumbai Attacks

    David Headley testifies via video link that Pakistan-based Islamic terror group made two failed attempts to mount strikes in Mumbai in months prior to coordinated assault

    These Are the 10 Smartest US States

    A new report breaks down the nation's best and brightest

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.