South Korean media say North Korean embassy officials stationed in China have defected, claiming that the incident was the latest in a series of alleged defections by North Korean officials.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, quoting an anonymous source, said on Wednesday that an embassy official stationed in the Beijing embassy, who was attached to the North Korean Health Ministry, had disappeared with his family in late September.
The South Korean daily JoongAng Ilbo, meanwhile, also cited an unnamed source as saying that two senior staffers from the North Korean embassy in Beijing had defected and asked for asylum in Japan’s mission in Beijing.
Propaganda at work?
Japan’s top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga has, however, denied that anyone from North Korea had asked for asylum at the Japanese mission.
“There’s no truth in the reports that North Korean asylum seekers contacted the Japanese embassy, and we’re not aware of any situation involving North Koreans hoping to defect to Japan,” Suga said.
It was not even clear if the two individuals alleged to have defected in the JoongAng Ilbo report included the one person reported by Yonhap.
The reports by the South Korean media are not unlikely to be mere propaganda against Pyongyang particularly in light of a recent speech by South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who urged North Koreans to defect.
In her provocative speech last Saturday, Park urged North Koreans to abandon the “horrendous” lives they have in North Korea, and defect to the South “to find hope and live a new life.”
The two Koreas have been at loggerheads since the Korean War (1950-53) ended in a ceasefire, which has nevertheless continued to this day despite unending hostile political rhetoric, regular military exercises and sporadic incidents of confrontations.
They also regularly engage in circulating propagandist material against one another.
Pyongyang is armed with nuclear weapons and missiles it claims it needs to protect itself against aggression by Seoul and its military ally Washington.
Pyongyang’s main ally, China, has repeatedly called on the US and South Korean officials to refrain from provocative actions against the North, which would not be conducive to stability in the region.