- - Friday, July 14, 2023

The life or death of hundreds of Koreans will soon be up to Xi Jinping.

Credible rumors suggest that the North Korea/China border will open soon – possibly this summer — and that China’s first export to North Korea will be the children, women and men detained in China that fled North Korea.


This border has been shut down since January 22, 2020, when Kim Jong Un, fearing the COVID-19 pandemic, was one of the first national leaders to close their borders. As a result, China has not been able to carry out its illegal and inhumane policy of forcefully repatriating North Koreans back to North Korea to face almost certain torture, detention, and possible execution since leaving the country without permission is a crime punishable by death in North Korea.

The estimate given by humanitarian organizations, and confirmed by the United Nations Special Rapporteur, is that up to 2,000 North Korean children, women, and men are in prison in China right now and that at least half were attempting to get to South Korea. That group is in extreme danger if forcefully repatriated because these families escaped at one of the most difficult times, which means they had to have the resources and the financing for their escape. That means they were either Korean Worker’s Party members or had family in South Korea that paid for their rescue – “crimes” in North Korea that would subject them to torture and public execution.

Xi should consider that whatever momentary influence he will gain with Kim Jong Un by forcing these disenchanted citizens back to suffer under his regime will certainly not be worth the lifetime of hatred that Koreans will have towards Xi for this brutal act.

Instead, Xi, who desires China to be the world’s leader, should simply uphold and honor China’s international treaty obligations and allow these refugees safe passage to South Korea. China is a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and its 1967 Protocol, and the Convention Against Torture. No one disputes that these North Koreans entered China illegally, and no one disputes that China has absolutely every right to protect its borders, but it is well documented the horrific fate that North Koreans face when they are sent back to North Korea.

Furthermore, these children, women, and men are citizens of South Korea under the Republic of Korea’s constitution and can be quickly resettled there. South Korea should do all it can to remind China of that fact and that these refugees need not be any further burden on China. One family of four that miraculously escaped directly from China in November 2021 reported that the Chinese prison officials showed them compassion – these officials knew these were innocent refugees just seeking a better life – no threat or danger to China.

Xi would, in many cases, simply be reuniting Korean families, and the goodwill from making this humanitarian gesture would be deeply felt by all Koreans and be much respected around the world, a world that is increasingly aware of the horrors of the Kim dictatorship.

The international community should also do its part in encouraging China to provide the safe passage of these refugees, who, unlike any refugees in the world, have a place to go for immediate resettlement as citizens of South Korea.

The United States, which has often engaged China regarding North Korean refugees, should let China know that it will enact sanctions against any Chinese officials who take part in what is essentially an accomplice to murder.

But ultimately, it really is up to Xi Jinping.

President Xi, Please let them live!

  • Dr. Scholte is considered one of the world’s leading activists in the North Korean human rights movement and received the 2008 Seoul Peace Prize for her work. She currently serves as Chair of the North Korea Freedom Coalition and Free North Korea Radio.