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Friday, 14 June, 2002, 12:28 GMT 13:28 UK
China hits back in asylum row
South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Hang-kyoung(r) and Chinese ambassador Li Bin (left)
Korea gave the Chinese ambassador a dressing down
China has told South Korea it is extremely displeased about an incident in Beijing on Thursday, when Chinese police arrested a North Korean man who was seeking asylum at a South Korean consulate.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry accused South Korean officials of abusing their diplomatic privileges by trying to prevent the police from carrying out their duties.

The Chinese reaction followed a protest from South Korea that the police had forced their way into the building and dragged the man out.

The BBC correspondent in Seoul, Caroline Gluck, says relations between the two countries have been sorely tested by the increasing number of North Koreans trying to gain asylum by entering foreign embassies in China.

Tug of war

A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Liu Jianchao, said the South Korean officials' behaviour on Thursday "was extremely incompatible with their capacity as diplomats... China expresses its strong dissatisfaction".

Lee Sang-min, journalist from South Korean news agency Yonhap, points at blood stains that he said resulted from the struggle
A journalist and a Korean diplomat were roughed up in the struggle
"Despite China's goodwill, the South Korean side continues to adopt a policy of encouraging and abetting... China finds it deeply regrettable," Mr Liu said.

China also refused South Korea's request that they return the man, whom, according to Mr Liu, has tried five times in the past to enter China and has been repatriated twice.

His teenage son succeeded in entering the consulate at the same time, joining 17 other North Koreans being sheltered there.

Two other North Koreans are holed up in the Canadian embassy in Beijing.

Punch-up

Mr Liu said the security guards were trying to protect the security of the consulate, partly at the request of South Korea.

A South Korean diplomat was reportedly punched in the mouth in the ensuing scuffle.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry has already summoned China's ambassador to Seoul, Li Bin, to deliver an official protest over Thursday's melee.

Seoul regards the incident as a breach of international law on the protection of diplomatic compounds and diplomatic staff.

The incident is reminiscent of a row between China and Japan last month after Chinese guards dragged a family of five North Koreans out of the Japanese consulate in Shenyang, north-eastern China.

Beijing has allowed nearly 40 North Koreans to leave China via a third country but there are signs that its policy is toughening.

China demanded on Thursday that foreign missions now hand over all North Korean freedom seekers.


Nuclear tensions

Inside North Korea

Divided peninsula

TALKING POINT
See also:

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13 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
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