Two North Korean officials stationed in Beijing have reportedly sought asylum with Japan in yet another high-profile defection from the ironclad Pyongyang regime. Their final destination remains unclear but the duo is thought to have wanted to move to Japan immediately.
The Japanese and Chinese governments are now working on the matter, according to the South Korean daily JoongAng Ilbo. The unnamed North Koreans made the defection request in September.
One of the officials was believed to be working with Pyongyang's health ministry and was in charge of acquiring medical supplies for the country's leader Kim Jong-un.
"The senior official A from [North Korea's] Ministry of Public Health disappeared with his wife and daughter on 28 September," an anonymous source was cited as saying.
South Korean officials are also closely following the developments but have not yet issued any statement officially. There is also speculation that the North Korean pair would want to end up in the South. Jeong Joong-hee, a spokesperson for Seoul's unification ministry, told reporters that nothing has been confirmed so far.
However, an official at the Japanese diplomatic mission in the Chinese capital was quoted as saying: "There is no such fact that any North Korean national seeking to defect to Japan has contacted the Japanese Embassy. Also, I am not aware of any North Korean seeking to defect to Japan."
North Korea has witnessed a number of defections in recent months including some high-profile diplomatic incidents. This is despite Pyongyang's efforts in stopping those fleeing the regime and harsh punishments doled out to those involved.
Only on Saturday (1 October), South Korean President Park Geun-hye had openly urged more North Koreans to defect. She said: "We are well aware of the gruesome realities you face. The universal values of freedom, democracy, human rights and welfare are the precious rights you should also enjoy."