Chinese authorities have not confirmed if a group of 19 North Korean defectors arrested in Northeast China would be sent to South Korea, according to a press official with the foreign ministry.
"We have not been told to change our regular practice regarding this case," the official told the Global Times Sunday, on condition of anonymity.
China will make a rare move of allowing 19 North Korean defectors to leave for South Korea as early as this month, the Yonhap News Agency quoted a diplomatic source as saying in a report on Friday.
This exception comes for diplomatic considerations, as public arrest of defectors is turning into an international issue. The source, who requested anonymity, mentioned Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang's recent visit to Seoul has also had an impact on the case.
Liu Ming, a researcher with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times China would consider factors including family background, time in China and personal intentions when making policy for North Korean defectors.
"More North Koreans will cross the border into the country if China allows them to arrive in South Korea," Liu said. "The Democratic People's Republic of Korea will then strengthen border force, which will bring in tension between the two countries."
A total of 20 defectors, including two South Korean nationals, were arrested in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, in September, according to the Yonhap report.
One of the two South Koreans returned home last month, while the other was detained on charges of violating local laws and will be released and head back to South Korea after posting bail.
Another 18 North Koreans were taken into custody in the city of Tumen, Jilin Province.
They will take a flight from Tumen or the neighboring Yanji to South Korea around November 20, the report said.
Chinese authorities have decided to issue the defectors travel certificates, the report said.
A number of North Koreans have defected from their country and crossed the border to Northeast China's Jilin and Liaoning provinces before fleeing to a third country such as South Korea.
Zou Le contributed to this story