BEIJING, Jan. 13 -- The Chinese government on Thursday defended its decision to raid a news conference called by visiting South Korean legislators to discuss the status of North Korean refugees in China, accusing the lawmakers of inciting North Koreans to enter the country illegally and break into foreign embassies to seek asylum.
Kong Quan, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, rejected demands by the South Korean officials for an apology, instead suggesting they apologize to China for what he described as "very improper behavior." Speaking at a regular briefing, Kong also denied that Chinese security agents had roughed up journalists during the raid.
In Seoul, the South Korean government called in the Chinese ambassador to express concern about the incident and demand an explanation, but stopped short of lodging a formal protest. The opposition Grand National Party urged a tougher stand and condemned China's "rudeness and arrogance."
"This is in one word an insult to the Republic of Korea and a violence toward lawmakers who represented the people," the party said, according to the Associated Press.
Four legislators from the party who were on a fact-finding mission to China called a news conference Wednesday to urge the Beijing government to show leniency toward refugees from North Korea and to release South Korean activists jailed for helping them. But Chinese security agents cut the lights in the hotel meeting room, then shoved dozens of journalists out of the room. The men struck at least one photographer on the head.
Reporters Without Borders, an international media advocacy organization, said China was using "unacceptable methods" to stop Chinese and foreign journalists from reporting on North Korean refugees and said it had sent a letter of protest to the Chinese foreign minister.
More than a dozen plainclothes agents took part in the raid, during which they refused repeated requests to identify themselves. On Thursday, Kong described them only as "personnel from departments protecting order" and said they had denied attacking any journalists.
He acknowledged that Chinese security officers should identify themselves when carrying out their duties but blamed the incident on the South Koreans, saying the officers had advised them not to hold the news conference. He also said that only one of the lawmakers had been invited to China and that the three others were traveling on tourist visas.
"My feeling is they didn't come to China to seek friendship or understanding or to expand cooperation," he said. "They called together the international media in a big way to support and incite incidents that violate Chinese laws and regulations. . . . I think this itself is very improper. Their behavior should be more cautious and self-disciplined."
Kong declined to say if the legislators had broken any laws. Asked by a South Korean reporter whether the visitors needed China's permission to hold a news conference, Kong replied: "I want to ask the legislators from your country: Do they have the right to do whatever they like in another country and incite people to violate that country's laws and regulations? This is a serious question, and I hope you clear this up before making comments about China's actions."
Kong also defended China's handling of what he called "illegal border-crossers" from North Korea, describing his government's policies as "most humanitarian."
As many as 300,000 North Koreans are believed to be living in China after fleeing repression and starvation in their homeland. The Beijing government says they are economic migrants, refuses to grant them refugee status and routinely sends those it apprehends back to North Korea, a communist ally. Human rights groups have protested, saying the repatriated refugees usually face imprisonment and sometimes execution.