China defused a five-week diplomatic crisis Tuesday by spiriting a senior North Korean defector out of the country and sending him by special plane to the Philippines, where he is expected to stay for a decent diplomatic interval before traveling to South Korea.
The defector, Hwang Jang Yop, an ideological mentor to Kim Jong Il, the North Korean leader, was the most senior member of his country's hard-line elite ever to defect.
He arrived at the Clark Special Economic Zone, a former U.S. military base in the Philippines, just after noon aboard a China Southern Airlines Boeing 737 that had carried him from the south China port of Xiamen.
"What I can tell you is that through consultations among all sides, the problem has already been solved," a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Cui Tiankai, said Tuesday. Shortly after that, the official Xinhua News Agency reported that Hwang "left China today for a third country."
None of the governments involved disclosed the conditions for his safe passage to South Korea.
Monday, a senior South Korean official said Hwang would remain in a "third country" for "a considerable period of time" before going on to Seoul. This condition was presumably intended as a gesture to spare China the image of having its territory used as an escape route from North Korea.
Hwang, who is believed to be 74, sought political asylum at the South Korean consulate in Beijing on Feb. 12.
The high-security operation Tuesday ended five weeks of drama around the South Korean consulate that served as Hwang's sanctuary as diplomatic negotiations were carried out in several Asian capitals.
Hwang's departure was a significant diplomatic victory for China, whose leaders were aghast at suddenly finding Beijing a battleground in a high-stakes struggle over a defector whose intimate knowledge of the North Korean leadership made his desertion as embarrassing to Pyongyang as it is valued by Seoul and by those governments that will profit from the treasure of intelligence that Hwang brings with him.