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As relations between China and N. Korea improve, defectors in China worry about repatriations

Once strained, the relationship between North Korea and China appears to be on the mend again as the two countries mark the “year of North Korea-China friendship” to celebrate 75 years of diplomatic relations. This situation is leading to fears among North Korean defectors in China, many of whom worry that North Korea and China may improve cooperation on repatriating defectors as the countries grow closer.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source in China told Daily NK recently that defectors in China “feel more frightened and insecure than ever about being repatriated because the closer North Korea and China are, the greater the risk that defectors will be repatriated.”

He said defectors in China have felt troubled since reports emerged that Zhao Leji, the chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and the third-ranking member of the Chinese Communist Party, discussed plans to strengthen exchanges and cooperation to develop China-North Korea ties when he met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a visit to North Korea on April 11-13.

Defectors in China who were already feeling uneasy after China forcibly repatriated a large number of North Koreans last October now live in extreme fear following the high-ranking Chinese official’s visit to the North, according to the source. 

In fact, anxious North Korean defectors have dramatically grown in number, with word recently going around that “if relations between North Korea and China improve, we’ll all be repatriated.”

North Korean defectors in China say that if Beijing and Pyongyang grow closer, bilateral cooperation on the defector issue will intensify — and if this is the case, they never know when they will be caught and sent back to the North.

According to the source, one defector said if North Korea-China relations improve, “China will present us to the North as a bribe, and we’ll get sent to a place from which we’ll never leave.”

The individual added: “Nowadays, during the day, I’m afraid to even leave my bathroom for fear that somebody is coming to get me, while at night, I suffer nightmares. It doesn’t feel like living.”

“Defectors feel like they’re being driven to the ledge”

In particular, defectors are growing even more frightened as rumors go around that China “will round up and repatriate defectors living in China, regardless of the reason, after it’s done repatriating all those defectors currently in Chinese prisons.”

“Last summer as well, people were nervous for a while as rumors went around that China would repatriate defectors in Chinese prisons, then suddenly arrest and repatriate defectors who committed no crimes and were living quietly,” the source said. “With China continuing to repatriate defectors in prison since last October, defectors’ fears are reaching a fever pitch.”

“We still need to watch and see whether they’re not just rumors and if China is actually taking those steps, but defectors feel like they’re being driven to the ledge,” he said. “In response, defectors say there’s no way to survive other than by going to South Korea, but they can’t do a thing because if you slip up even slightly while trying to go to the South, you can be arrested and repatriated.”

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler. 

Daily NK works with a network of sources living in North Korea, China, and elsewhere. Their identities remain anonymous for security reasons. For more information about Daily NK’s network of reporting partners and information-gathering activities, please visit our FAQ page here.

Please send any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

Read in Korean

May 14, 2024 at 12:00PM

by DailyNK(North Korean Media)

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