Three North Koreans entered a South Korean Embassy office in Beijing and asked for political asylum, an official said Saturday.
One man, aged 40, brushed past guards to enter the consular section of the embassy on Thursday, while a man and woman who appeared to be a couple rushed past guards to enter the same office on Friday, said embassy counselor Lee Hyuk.
The embassy is discussing their fate with “Chinese authorities concerned,” Lee said.
There was no immediate comment from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
The consular section is a separate office about four blocks from the more heavily guarded main embassy building. Earlier reports indicated that the North Koreans had entered the main embassy building. But Lee said they had chosen the separate consular office instead, possibly because it presented an easier target.
“I don’t think they had much trouble getting through the door at the consular office,” he said.
Police closed off both ends of a narrow street that runs in front of the embassy, which — like most diplomatic missions in China — was recently ringed with barbed wire. Guards armed with pistols blocked traffic and ordered journalists not to photograph the area.
The three latest asylum seekers add to a wave of North Koreans fleeing famine and repression who have sought political asylum at foreign diplomatic missions in China. Over the past three months, at least 38 have been allowed to travel to South Korea via other countries.
China has a treaty with its ally North Korea to return all North Koreans to the isolated hardline communist state. But Beijing has been unwilling to do so in cases that become public, apparently out of concern that sending them home would harm its international reputation.
On Wednesday, China ended a weeklong diplomatic standoff over the fate of five North Koreans who sought asylum at the Japanese consulate in the northeastern city of Shenyang. Japan accused Chinese guards of removing them from the consulate without permission in violation of international law.
But China claimed Japanese consular officials allowed the guards to enter the compound, and accused Japan of overreacting. The five were released from Chinese detention and allowed to travel to South Korea via the Philippines.