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China Cracks Down on North Korean Asylum-Seekers - 2002-05-09

China is defending its detention of two people thought to be North Korean asylum-seekers, after they rushed into a Japanese consulate. Beijing is taking a tougher stance against North Korean refugees, even as it is negotiating with Washington about two asylum seekers in a U.S. consulate. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan says police acted appropriately when they detained two people who entered the Japanese consulate in Shenyang, in northeastern China.

Mr. Kong tells reporters in Beijing Thursday that according to the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations, China has a duty to safeguard diplomatic staff and property. He says the world is facing greater threats from terrorism, and police in Shenyang were protecting consular staff when they took away two people who illegally entered Japanese diplomatic property. Mr. Kong says China is attempting to verify the identity of those detained.

Japan summoned China's ambassador earlier Thursday to protest the police detention of the two people, who are thought to be North Korean. Three other suspected North Koreans were arrested outside the diplomatic compound.

Japan's Foreign Minister, Yoriko Kawaguchi, says at a news conference in Tokyo that armed Chinese police entered the Japanese diplomatic building without permission. She says Japan has delivered a protest to China because the action violated the Vienna Convention.

Also Thursday, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing confirmed that two North Koreans are seeking asylum at the American consulate in Shenyang. The two scaled the wall and entered the consulate Wednesday. He says another person claiming to be North Korean entered consular grounds Thursday.

American officials are working with the Chinese government to resolve the situation. The spokesman adds the United States has consistently conveyed to the Chinese government its belief that North Koreans should not be returned to their homeland.

Beijing is North Korea's main ally, and refuses to recognize the refugee status of North Koreans illegally crossing the border to China. Beijing usually sends refugees home. But China has been under increasing pressure from other countries not to repatriate North Koreans seeking asylum at Western embassies.

In March, 25 North Koreans rushed into the Spanish Embassy in Beijing and demanded asylum. A day later, they were sent to South Korea via the Philippines. Since then, Chinese police have stepped up security in Beijing's diplomatic districts.