(Bloomberg) -- US soldier Travis King, who entered North Korea without permission in July, has been expelled from the country and is now on his way back to the US, Biden administration officials said.
Read More: What We Know About US Soldier Who Fled to North Korea
King was transported to Dandong, a Chinese city on the North Korean border, where he was met by US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters on Wednesday. The soldier was put on a State Department plane that took him to the Chinese city of Shenyang and then to the Osan US Air Force base in South Korea, he added.
King has departed South Korea and should be arriving in the US in coming hours, Miller said, speaking shortly after 1 p.m. in Washington.
Diplomats from Sweden, which acts as the US’s intermediary in North Korea, helped with the transfer, and Beijing aided the US by facilitating the soldier’s transit through China, Miller said.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan thanked “the government of the People’s Republic of China for its assistance,” effectively acknowledging the transfer as an example of cooperation despite the strains in US-China relations. Miller said the “tempo” of US-China discussions has increased since Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited in June, and that there would be more details soon on US-China meetings.
“We have other meetings that we’ll be able to make public in the very near future where we’re exchanging views with China on a number of issues,” he said.
King, 23, a cavalry scout from Wisconsin, has been in the Army since January 2021. He’d been jailed for almost two months in South Korea for assault and was set to fly to Texas in July, where he faced expulsion from the military.
Instead, he left the airport and joined a tour to the Joint Security Area in the Panmunjom truce village, where he ran across the border and was later whisked away in a van surrounded by North Korean military personnel.
Earlier: North Korea to Expel US Soldier Who Bolted Across Border
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency announced the plan to expel King in a 120-word dispatch earlier Wednesday that didn’t provide information on King’s whereabouts or arrangements for sending him to the US.
It’s unusual for North Korea to expel a US service member who sought refuge there. The North Korean government has held them in the past to extract concessions from the US or for propaganda purposes with a show trial and sometimes a confession likely designed by Pyongyang’s propaganda apparatus to tarnish the image of the US.
“Travis King confessed that he illegally intruded into the territory of the DPRK as he harbored ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the US Army and was disillusioned about the unequal US society,” KCNA said. DPRK reflects the formal name of the country, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
What We Know About US Soldier Who Fled to North Korea: QuickTake
No concessions were given to North Korea in order to secure King’s release and the private is happy to be returning home to reunite with his family, according to a US official.
Through a spokesman, King’s mother Claudine Gates said the family “will be forever grateful to the United States Army and all its interagency partners for a job well done” and asked for privacy.
The US government views North Korea’s cooperation with the US on this issue as a “one-off,” Miller said. “I do not see this as a sign of any diplomatic breakthrough that will have implications for other issues, other areas of concern we have with the DPRK regime,” he said.
North Korea had let it be known earlier this month, via the Swedish government, that it was prepared to release King, an administration official told reporters. The official didn’t say why Pyongyang decided to let King go. Officials who briefed reporters declined to say if King would face disciplinary action by the military after his return.
--With assistance from Sangmi Cha, Jon Herskovitz and Tony Capaccio.
(Updates in second paragraph with new details on soldier’s movements)
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