Five North Korean defectors have arrived in South Korea after spending three years in a South Korean consulate in China, a South Korean official said Wednesday.
China has allowed them to travel to South Korea via a third country, the official said, a step Beijing usually takes to handle those involved in high-profile cases.
China arrests and repatriates fugitives from North Korea, considering them to be economic migrants rather than potential refugees.
South Korea and international rights groups have urged it to change the policy, saying returnees can face harsh punishment.
The rare decision by China to allow the refugees' departure is an apparent sign of its irritation at North Korea for a rocket launch planned next week.
Pyongyang announced a plan to launch a satellite-carrying rocket to mark the centenary of the birth of its late founding president Kim Il-Sung, drawing international condemnation.
The North insists the launch is a peaceful space project. The United States and several other nations see it as a disguised missile test banned under UN resolutions.
I hope that China-NK relation deteriorates more so that international efforts leads to a better North Korea.