There are various opinions on whether the repatriation of defector Lim Ji Hyun, who was the subject of media attention in South Korea, was voluntary or coerced. It has also been recently confirmed that agents from North Korea’s Ministry of State Security and some Chinese public security officials have formed ‘abductions units’ to carry out broad arrest operations of North Korean defectors in the Chinese border regions.
The North Korean authorities have reportedly issued orders to arrest defectors hiding in the border areas while pressuring the families of the defectors to persuade them to return. Seen in this light, there are two alternative scenarios behind defector Lim’s repatriation. She may have been kidnapped by an abductions unit and forced to return, or was persuaded by her family, who may have been threatened.
“Recently, the North Korean authorities dispatched MSS agents in kidnapping teams to the cities of Yanji and Dandong, in China. These teams have been arresting North Korean defectors hiding in hotels and restaurants in the Chinese border areas and repatriating them to North Korea,” a source familiar with North Korean affairs in China told Daily NK on July 18.
“The abduction teams have also been conducting anti-espionage activities by discreetly paying money to Chinese public security officials to ascertain information on the locations of North Korean defectors. These Chinese officials can determine the locations and movements of defectors and hand the information to the MSS agents, who arrest them on the spot. These operations are being meticulously conducted, so it’s difficult for defectors to escape if they become a target.”
The joint operation between the MSS and Chinese security officials against North Korean defectors is not without precedent. Daily NK reported in November last year that the MSS paid in gold to Chinese public security officials in return for their cooperation in apprehending and repatriating North Korean defectors in China.
While these broad kidnapping operations are being conducted in the border areas, the authorities are also implementing a tactic to persuade defectors to return, using their family members back home. According to the source, North Korean residents including the family members of defectors, have been instructed to spread the news that “the Marshal (Kim Jong Un) will forgive those who return to North Korea.”
This is referred to as a two-track strategy in North Korea, involving both threats and incentives to achieve a goal.
“Some defectors who have been leading unstable lives in China have been deceived by the persuasion of their family members and returned,” the source added.
“Sometimes, the defectors receive threats that their family will be in danger if they don’t return. The officials inform them that, ‘If you remain, your family will be killed, but if you come back, you will be released to live with your family.’ It seems that some of the defectors who voluntarily return make the extreme choice to protect their family.”
Yoo Dong Yeol, head of the Freedom and Democracy Institute said, “It’s not easy to determine whether they were kidnapped or not, if they return to North Korea once. There are often times when North Koreans find it difficult surviving overseas, and are forced to return to North Korea.”
▲ North Korean defector Jeon Hye Song, who returned to North Korea, appeared on
Uriminzokkiri (Amongst Our Nation) on July 16. Jeon said she appeared on South Korea’s cable
broadcasting station under the alias Lim Ji Hyun. Photo: Uriminzokkiri
Regarding Lim’s repatriation, there are views that she could have been kidnapped by North Korean agents while visiting China for business or personal reasons. According to an informant who claimed to have known her whereabouts until early this year, Lim frequently visited China because she opened an internet shopping website in China.
“As far as I know, Lim went to China in early April for business affairs related to an internet shopping mall and other personal reasons. The last time I heard, she was in Yanji in the middle of May and seems to have been gone missing between the period of May 15 – 20. There is a possibility that she was kidnapped by North Korean agents at the time,” the informant told Daily NK.
“Lim must have become a target of the MSS as she has frequently visited China after appearing on South Korean TV, in which she often criticized the North Korean system; however, there is also a good chance that she voluntarily returned, being worried about the safety of her family. But this is actually not so much different from forced repatriation.”
This source added that most of the information regarding Lim released by North Korean media and interviews is untrue. “Lim said that her life in South Korea was miserable on North Korean state-run media, but the defectors who knew her in South Korea say that she had a good relationship with people and not many difficulties. Therefore, the interviews conducted in North Korea must be staged,” the source explained.
“Some believed that Lim may have been kidnapped with several other North Korean defectors, but it has since been confirmed that she was alone at the time. So she may have been kidnapped while alone.”
Meanwhile, Uriminzokkiri released a video clip entitled “The truth spoken by Jeon Hye Sung who was strategically used by the enemy of the republic (South Korea),” in which a repatriated North Korean woman calling herself “Jeon Hye Sung,” appeared and claimed that she fled from the country in January 2014 and returned in June this year (2017).
“I am currently living with my parents in Munbong-dong in Anju City, South Pyongan Province,” she said in the video, confessing that she appeared on a South Korean cable TV show under the alias ‘Lim Ji Hyun’ when she was in South Korea.
“I had to criticize and make vicious remarks about the Republic (North Korea) against my will. I moved around in South Korea, even working at bars to earn money there, and it was agonizing both in physical and mental aspects,” she added.
In regards to this, a spokesperson for the South Korean Ministry of Unification said on July 17 that the related government agencies are currently investigating the route of repatriation of the North Korean woman who appeared on North Korea’s propaganda media.