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U.S. lists China among worst nations for human trafficking

June 29,2017
The U.S. State Department placed China on its global list of worst human trafficking offenders Tuesday, blaming the country for using forced North Korean laborers and repatriating asylum-seekers from the regime, where they subsequently face severe punishment or death.

The placement, announced in its annual “Trafficking in Persons Report,” came a week after President Donald Trump expressed irritation over Beijing’s failure to reign in Pyongyang, adding to recent signs that the Trump administration might end its cozy relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Three senior U.S. administration officials told Reuters that Trump has grown increasingly frustrated over China’s inaction on North Korea and bilateral trade issues and is considering possible trade actions against Beijing.

“China was downgraded to Tier Three status in this year’s report,” said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, “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.”

He added, “American consumers and businesses must also recognize they may have an unwitting connection to human trafficking.”

Tillerson made those assessments in a keynote speech during a launch ceremony of the 454-page “2017 Trafficking in Persons Report,” held at the State Department in Washington. The paper lists countries in one of four tiers, with Tier One being the best possible ranking and Tier Three, the fourth tier, being the worst.

According to the report, the ranking is based not on the size of the country’s problem but on the extent of governments’ efforts to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of human tracking.

“When state actors or non-state actors use human trafficking,” Tillerson said, “it can become a threat to our national security.”

North Korea depends on forced labor to generate illicit sources of revenue in industries including construction, mining and food processing, he said, continuing that an estimated 50,000 to 80,000 North Koreans are working overseas as forced laborers primarily in Russia and China.

“The North Korean regime receives hundreds of millions of dollars per year from the fruits of forced labor,” he said, calling on other nations to “send those people home.”

The report, which listed South Korea in Tier One, explains that the North Korean government, which was listed in Tier Three, “did not demonstrate any efforts” to address human trafficking through prosecution, protection or prevention measures.

While it is unknown precisely how many North Koreans are sent abroad for forced labor, the report said the figure could be in the tens of thousands. These laborers work on average between 12 and 16 hours a day, sometimes up to 20 hours per day, and are allowed only one or two rest days per month.

They receive only a fraction of the money paid to the North Korean government for their work and face punishment if they fail to meet production or work targets, the report depicts.

In prison camps, which are estimated to hold 80,000 to 120,000 prisoners across the country, detainees, including children, are subject to forced labor for long hours and under harsh conditions, subjected to beatings, torture and rape.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]