A dozen North Koreans have defected from their workplace - a restaurant in eastern China - ending up in South Korea. Reuters Eve Johnson reports on why China seems to have made no move to stop them from leaving the country.
Some of North Korea's best and brightest - working at restaurants in China. Living in dorms, watched over by minders, and paid peanuts. Now 13 of them have defected - disappearing from their workplace in the eastern city of Ningbo only to pop up in South Korea as asylum seekers. Reuters' Megha Rajagopalan says this mass defection has shone a light on Pyongyang's overseas business. (SOUNDBITE) (English) REUTERS CORRESPONDENT, MEGHA RAJAGOPALAN, SAYING: "There are about 130 of these sorts of North Korean government controlled restaurants all over Asia, in Southeast Asia and China. And their numbers have been growing in recent years. Most of them have a completely North Korean staff, mostly they are young women that have been sent for short periods of time abroad from North Korea. Many of them are highly educated, attractive, talented in music and in the arts. These restaurants have become an important source of hard currency for the regime, particularly as other sources of currency have been shut down by increasingly tough international sanctions." North Korean defectors have long passed through China Beijing calls them economic migrants and hands them right back to Pyongyang. But not this time. (SOUNDBITE) (English) REUTERS CORRESPONDENT, MEGHA RAJAGOPALAN, SAYING: "This case in Ningbo is particularly unusual because Chinese officials have made an explicit statement on it, saying the 13 North Koreas who left the country left on valid passports and with valid identification, as a means to justify Chinese authorities decision to let them leave the country." Analysts say China might be trying to show its displeasure After Pyongyang's recent string of nuclear and ballistic missile tests. As for the North - it has its own version of events Claiming the restaurant workers were abducted by South Korea.