China on Wednesday executed two South Korean drug dealers, despite Seoul’s repeated pleas for leniency, local reports said. The two men reportedly smuggled the drugs into China from North Korea before proceeding to sell them in South Korea.

A district court in Jilin province in China’s northeast, which lies near the North Korean border, ordered the execution for smuggling large amounts of methamphetamine, commonly known as crystal meth, from North Korea, which is struggling with a drug epidemic, into China. The duo was arrested in 2011 and was reportedly sentenced this March by China’s highest court. The latest executions were the first involving South Korean nationals since 2004, when a South Korean was executed in China for murder.

“The South Korean government expresses deep regret over the latest execution of our citizens in China,” Noh Kwang-il, a spokesperson for the foreign ministry said, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency, adding: "The government has repeatedly pleaded for humanitarian consideration through various levels of channels ... and we plan to provide all the necessary support (to the families of the two)."

Last month, China informed South Korea about its decision to execute the two dealers, leading Seoul to submit a request for clemency, reports said, adding that the latest executions are a part of a series of death penalties that China has handed down to foreign drug dealers. Another South Korean drug dealer, who was caught after smuggling and trading 26 pounds of drugs in 2009, and was sentenced in Shandong district in China’s east, is currently awaiting execution.

"In the past five years, China has executed drug criminals from Britain, Japan, the Philippines and Pakistan. They were executed for dealing about 3 to 4 kilograms of drugs, far less than what the two South Korean dealers were caught dealing," Yonhap reported, citing an official.

Nearly 20 South Koreans have been sentenced to death for drug-related offenses in China, where carrying more than 2.2 pounds of opium or more than 50 grams (1.76 ounces) of crystal meth or heroin is a crime. A majority of South Koreans have got their penalties commuted.

Until May, Chinese courts had sentenced 39,762 criminals for drug-related offences, depicting an increase of 27.38 percent over last year, Xinhua reported. Last November, the United Nations said that, in 2012, Southeast Asia and East Asia witnessed the recovery of 227 million pills of crystal meth, up 60 percent over 2011.