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(2nd LD) TIllerson: U.S. downgrades China's human trafficking status due to complicity in N.K. forced labor

2017/06/28 01:01

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By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON, June 27 (Yonhap) -- The United States put China on par with North Korea as among the world's worst countries for human trafficking, saying Beijing failed to end its complicity in Pyongyang's export of forced labor, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday.

The State Department's annual "Trafficking in Persons Report 2017" put China in the lowest Tier 3 of its classification of countries, together with North Korea, Zimbabwe and Syria. China was classified in Tier 2 Watch List in last year's report.

"China was downgraded to the Tier 3 status in this year's report in part because it has not taken serious steps to end its own complicity in trafficking, including forced laborers from North Korea that are located in China," Tillerson said during a ceremony to release the report.

Tillerson said that forced labor is a key source of illicit revenues for the North.

"An estimated 52,000-80,000 North Korean citizens are working overseas as forced laborers primarily in Russia and China, many of them working 20 hours a day. Their pay does not come to them directly. It goes to the government of Korea, which confiscates most of that, obviously," Tillerson said.

The North regime receives hundreds of millions of dollars per year from forced labor, he said.

"Responsible nations simply cannot allow this to go on and we continue to call on any nation that is hosting workers from North Korea in a forced-labor arrangement to send those people home. Responsible nations also must take further action," he said.

The U.S. kept the North in the lowest Tier 3 category for the 15th straight year, saying Pyongyang sponsored "human trafficking through its use of forced labor in prison camps and labor training centers, facilitation of forced labor of students, and its provision of forced labor to foreign companies through bilateral contracts."

   China's downgrade is expected to draw strong protest from Beijing.

The decision is unusual for the administration of President Donald Trump, who has tried to avoid angering Beijing for concern such a move could hamper efforts to get China to increase pressure on Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programs.

That was one of the reasons for Trump chose not to label China a currency manipulator in April.

The downgrade comes after Trump complained in a Tweet last week, "While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out."

   China is North Korea's last-remaining major ally and a key provider of food and fuel supplies. But it has been reluctant to use its influence over Pyongyang for fear that pushing the regime too hard could result in instability in the North and hurt Chinese national interests.

Analysts doubt how far China can go in pressuring Pyongyang, saying China has often increased pressure on the North in the past, especially when Pyongyang carried out nuclear and missile tests and other provocative acts, but it never went as far as to cause real pain.

Meanwhile, the U.S. human trafficking report put South Korea among Tier 1 countries, along with other advanced nations like the U.S., Britain, France and Germany, saying the government fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.