HONG KONG -- In an unusual move, China in recent weeks twice denied visa applications by a group of South Korean lawmakers. Relations between China and South Korea have been good in recent years, so it is strange that Korean legislators who wish to visit China should be denied the chance to do so.

The reason for the visa denial has to do with a sensitive issue: the several million ethnic Koreans who live in China. The South Korean legislators want to discuss with Chinese officials the status of these Koreans; they also hope to visit their "compatriots" in China.

The legislators' interest stems from South Korea's consideration of a bill governing ethnic Koreans living abroad. The bill, if passed by the National Assembly, would give special rights to overseas Koreans living in China, Japan and elsewhere. They would be able to freely visit South Korea and will have the right to live and work there.