In the News – Clinton urges China to stop repatriation of N. Korean defectors
By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON, March 9 (Yonhap) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made clear Friday that her government is opposed to the forceful repatriation of North Korean refugees, a breach of international agreements.
“We urge every country to act according to international obligations,” such as the 1951 U.N. refugee convention and the 1967 protocol, Clinton said in a joint press conference with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan after their talks at the State Department building in Washington.
She was responding to a question on China’s policy of sending back North Korean defectors to their authoritarian and impoverished nation. Recently, China has repatriated around 30 North Koreans, according to human rights activists, although there is no government-level confirmation.
China treats North Koreans as economic migrants and not refugees eligible for asylum.
“We believe that refugees should not be repatriated and subjected once again to the dangers that they fled from,” Clinton said without hesitation but using carefully chosen phrases.
She said Washington has “engagement” with China over the sensitive issue, which has emerged as a source of diplomatic tension between Seoul and Beijing. The South’s conservative government is placing more emphasis on diplomatic efforts to persuade China not to repatriate North Korean defectors.
“The treatment of North Korean refugees is an issue on which we have ongoing engagement with our partners, both in Korea and China,” Clinton said.
Clinton said Glyn Davies, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, “raised our concerns about the North Korean refugees detained in China” with senior Chinese officials when he visited China last month.
“And we urge all countries in the region to cooperate in the protection of North Korean refugees in their territories,” she said. “We continue to work with international organizations in order to protect these refugees and to find durable. permanent solutions for them.”
On ways to deal with nuclear-armed North Korea, the top U.S. diplomat emphasized close consultation with the South.
As Pyongyang agreed to halt some of its nuclear activities in return for food aid from the U.S., concerns have been growing among South Koreans that the communist neighbor is bypassing Seoul, seeking to talk only with Washington.
The top nuclear negotiators of the two Koreas are in New York to attend an academic forum but there has been no separate meeting between them on the sidelines. The North’s vice foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho, has rejected an offer of talks by the South’s Lim Sung-nam, a diplomatic source said.
“This is an important time for our critical partnership,” Clinton said, “Any effort by anyone to drive a wedge between the United States and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) will fail.”
The South’s foreign minister, standing next to Clinton, also quoted the secretary as assuring in their closed-door meeting that there will be no “fundamental improvement” in relations between the U.S. and the North without progress in inter-Korean ties.
“I mentioned that North Korea’s recent denunciations of the South are an attempt to render influence on the elections (later this year) and the domestic politics of the Republic of Korea and that they are related to the North’s own internal situations,” Kim said.
Clinton, meanwhile, said Washington and Seoul are “making progress” in their discussions on how Seoul can help intensify sanctions on Iran, accused of developing nuclear weapons.
The U.S. is apparently asking South Korea to suspend or drastically cut imports of Iranian oil.
“In that context, we have been working very closely with the Republic of Korea on ways that it can look for alternatives to Iranian oil and oil products,” she said. “And I would be the first to say we recognize the difficult decisions and even the sacrifices that we are asking from other countries in order to increase this pressure on Iran.”
South Korea imports around 10 percent of its oil from Iran. Seoul must choose measures acceptable to the U.S. by June or its financial institutions will be banned from access to the U.S. banking system.
Original article can be found here.