Thae Yong Ho, North Korea’s former deputy ambassador in London, responds to questions
during a meeting with reporters at the Ministry of Unification, Government Complex
Seoul on December 27. Image: South Korean Joint Press Corps
During a press conference held at Government Complex Seoul in Gwanghwamun on December 27, Thae Yong Ho, North Korea’s ex-deputy ambassador in London, emphasized that, “North Korea will collapse on its own when enough external information introduced through drones or USBs reveals the truth of the Kim regime to the residents,” adding, “North Korean society is being held in place by the deification of its former leaders.”
“This is why the North Korean regime is taking extensive measures to prevent the influx of external information. It continuously lectures people not to watch South Korean movies, TV series, or media,” Thae added.
But he also said that North Korean diplomats overseas are, nevertheless, eager to hear news on North Korea as reported by foreign media.
“I was checking reports by South Korean media on North Korea and Yonhap News agency’s section for ‘North Korea’ every day on my smartphone. I read every news story related to defectors who settled in South Korea. I shed tears reading their stories, and [somehow] garnered the courage to defect as a result of them,” Thae said.
“All North Korean officials and their family members overseas are checking South Korean news every day. By tomorrow, every North Korean diplomat abroad will be aware of what I have said right now.”
Thae also emphasized the importance of international pressure on North Korea’s human rights issue based on his experience as a former diplomat. According to him, North Korean diplomats can remain defiant and proud on the issue of nuclear development, but when it comes to the issue of human rights, they often lose their nerve.
“North Korean diplomats can talk proudly about nuclear development wherever they go, because although it seems that the world is united against North Korea, many countries are actually keeping their eye on how the North will develop itself as a nuclear power. Some countries are interested in following North Korea’s path to becoming a nuclear power themselves. Therefore, North Korean diplomats retain their dignity despite the criticisms of international society,” Thae explained.
“However, there is not a single country that approves of North Korea’s human rights violations. The most frequent question I received was, ‘Do you think North Korea is an egalitarian society?’ North Korea will inevitably be put on the defensive in a debate over the human rights issue,” Thae added.
Thae particularly emphasized the importance of taking Kim Jong Un to the ICC (International Criminal Court), adding that North Korean diplomats are doing everything in their power to prevent it.
“It is not easy for North Koreans to understand the concepts of the ICC or human rights. But they will be greatly interested if they hear that Kim Jong Un will be tried at the international court. It will be a direct sign that Kim Jong Un is a criminal and his regime has no future,” Thae added.
In regards to his own reasons for defection, Thae said, “When Kim Jong Un first came to power, I was hopeful that, as he had studied abroad for a long time, he would make reasonable and rational decisions for the future of North Korea and the Korean people. But I soon fell into despair watching him purging officials for no proper reason.”
“In particular, Kim Jong Un announced at the 7th Congress of the Workers’ Party held in May that, ‘We must complete the task of nuclear development by 2017, using the phase of political transition both in South Korea and the US.’ Watching him announce such fanatical policies and obsessing over nuclear development, I came to the decision to defect to South Korea in order to do something to save the Korean people from nuclear disaster,” Thae added.
Thae expressed shame over an “opportunistic attitude” in the past – that is, vaguely wishing for a change by the Kim Jong Un regime while biding his own time. Kim Jong Un’s obsession with nuclear weapons, he said, is now threatening the survival of the Korean people, but that his “system of slavery will crumble when the people collectively rise up against him.”
Thae expressed his intention to work for the improvement of North Korea’s human rights and democratization in the future, describing hopes to become a “catalyst for unification” despite the personal perils.
“I realized that there is no future for the North Korean regime by learning of South Korea’s economic miracle and the process of democratization via the internet,” he said, continuing to describe his decision to become active in public appearances and advocacy immediately upon his arrival in the South.
Thae emphasized his determination, saying, “It breaks my heart to think about my family and colleagues in the North who must be suffering because of me. But isolating myself and crying won’t effect any change. I vow to fight to bring down the regime and through this process facilitate the unification of the two Koreas.”