SEOUL – Tokyo on Wednesday denied reports that two high-ranking North Korean officials in Beijing have defected and are seeking political asylum in Japan.
Citing anonymous sources, the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper on Wednesday said two officials deserted a North Korean mission in Beijing and contacted the Japanese Embassy in late September.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported similar details but said only one defector is involved. It, too, cited an unnamed source.
Japanese officials denied the reports, calling them untrue.
One of the defectors is described as a senior representative whose work included procuring medical supplies for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his immediate circle. The report identified the man only as “A,” saying he headed the North Korean Representative Office in Beijing and was an employee of a department of the Ministry of Public Health that oversees medical facilities used by Kim’s family.
It said “A,” his wife and their daughter disappeared on Sept. 28 from a residence used by North Korean diplomats in Beijing. They then contacted Japanese officials to ask for protection.
The newspaper added, the man has a relative living in Japan.
It identified the second would-be defector as official “B,” also from the Representative Office. He went into hiding with his family around the same time and applied for asylum in Japan.
Senior officials at the Representative Office are not diplomats accredited to the North Korean Embassy. They live in a separate complex and work there on trade and economic cooperation, the report said.
It said Japanese and Chinese officials have been in contact with each other to discuss the case.
The Japanese government dismissed the reports.
“There is no such fact that North Koreans who seek political asylum in Japan contacted the Japanese Embassy,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news briefing. “I am not aware of any North Koreans who want to defect to Japan.”
Yonhap said South Korea’s government is working to bring the defectors there, but the nation’s Unification Ministry had little to say on Wednesday.
“At this moment, I have nothing to confirm,” a spokesman said.
North Korea has suffered a string of defections this year, with personnel ranging in rank from diplomats to restaurant wait staff fleeing Kim’s brutal regime. Kim is thought to execute all those who stand up against him. Victims have included even his own uncle.
In August, Thae Yong Ho, the No. 2 at the North Korean embassy in London, defected with his family to South Korea. He was the highest-ranking North Korean diplomat to flee the hermit kingdom.
Meanwhile, South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Saturday made a rare appeal to North Koreans, urging them to defect to the South.
“Please come to the bosom of freedom in the South,” she said.
In 2002, five North Korean asylum seekers entered the compound of the Japanese Consulate General in Shenyang, only to be seized and removed by Chinese police guards.
Japanese Ambassador Koreshige Anami lodged a protest at the incursion by Chinese police onto sovereign territory, but he was later accused of hypocrisy after it emerged that he had told staff at the Japanese Embassy in Beijing that North Korean asylum seekers should be ejected.
The defectors faced potential extradition back to the North but ended up being resettled in South Korea.
Information by Kyodo added