Thae Yong Ho: ‘Information dissemination should be prioritized for North Korea policy’

Thae Yong Ho, North Korea’s ex-deputy ambassador in London suggested on January 17 that a priority for North Korea policy should be the dissemination of information into the North to prepare the people for an uprising.
Thae attended a meeting on January 17 hosted by lawmakers with the recently formed conservative offshoot Barun Party. He noted during the meeting, “The North Korean regime has been thoroughly blocking external information so that the residents cannot compare their living standards with others. But control over the residents has been collapsing due to information seeping in.”
“To resolve the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula and to guarantee permanent peace and security, there is no other way but to eliminate the Kim Jong Un regime,” Thae added, emphasizing the importance of providing information to the North Korean people through radio broadcasting, leaflets, and drones.
“We should strengthen international cooperation to pressure the North with sanctions and accountability for human rights violations so that its residents can acknowledge the reality. At the same time, we should develop communication and cooperation at the personal level while maintaining sanctions, separating the North Korean regime from its residents.”
Exposing the provenance of aid in the citizenry’s mind is an important facet of this strategy, according to Thae, who contended during the meeting that only 10-20% of food aid is being provided to the residents. “The important thing,” he said, “is to make people realize that the rice comes from the South, not from the regime. Donating food is not effective because it is often used by the regime to support its nuclear weapons program and strengthen regime security.”
He said that the same logic must apply to the shuttered Kaesong Industrial Complex, noting, “The restart of the Kaesong Industrial Complex has become a political issue. If the Complex is to be resumed, a policy should be made to provide medical services or food as a reward instead of cash, and the supplied food (rice) should be carefully tracked to make sure it actually reaches the residents. It is important that people realize that the benefits are being provided by South Korea.”
Regarding the effect of sanctions on North Korea, Thae maintained that such measures should not be evaluated solely by numbers or market metrics. It is more important, he said, to understand changing public sentiment and the regime’s policy failures. 
“Last year, two North Korean institutions, the State Economic Development Commission (SEDC) and the Joint Venture and Investment Commission (JVIC), were [provisionally] dissolved. The regime seems to have realized that there was no need to keep supporting the hundreds of workers in these agencies while under sanctions because there is no foreign investment. The regime is making efforts to show that it is not hindered by the sanctions, through actions like promoting ‘Ryomyong Street,’ but in fact, sanctions are wreaking havoc on the regime’s policy goals and plans,” Thae emphasized.
In regard to signs of instability in the North Korean system, Thae noted, “The elite class, which have been supporting North Korean society, have turned their back on the regime. In the past, the regime announced in a daily broadcast that North Korea has risen from ashes, overcoming the crisis of the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc. But seen from today’s view, Eastern Europe has mostly become a liberal democracy and even the countries that used to receive donations from North Korea, including Vietnam, Cambodia, and Angola, are sending out their labor force to earn money. In view of this, the North Korean people are feeling that there is no future for the Kim Jong Un regime.”
“Although I was one of the few exposed to foreign media, there are other North Korean diplomats who recently defected to South Korea. These diplomats are well aware of the news regarding defectors and where they went. (When I was working at the embassy in London,) news about defections by diplomats could be heard each month,” Thae said.
“The primary concern of the North Korean elites is whether they can enjoy the same level of social status when they defect to South Korea. This is important to them because they are in a high-ranking position in the North, which makes it easy for them to educate their children. But I expect that there will be more defections of the elite class, as they pursue a better life in South Korea.”
Concerning the nuclear threat, Thae said that North Korea has enough plutonium to make 10 nuclear weapons, explaining that a single one dropped on the center of Seoul has the capacity to kill 3 million people. Thae claimed that North Korea continues with nuclear weapons development as it regards the South as an object of elimination, not coexistence.
Thae explained that in recent years, North Korea has been promoting the idea of total war with nuclear weapons, biochemical weapons, and shells. In the 70s and 80s, he added, the regime used to mention the strategy of liberating South Korea, but now it only talks about annihilation.
“The objective of the Kim Jong Un regime is to force the US and South Korea to accept North Korea’s status as a nuclear power by breaking the rule of ‘denuclearization first, and talk later.’ The regime intends to keep developing nuclear weapons so as to be recognized as a nuclear power first, and then receive relief from sanctions, following the path of India and Pakistan. Accordingly, it will never abandon nuclear development,” Thae asserted.
Concerning South Korea’s decision to deploy THAAD, Thae regards the decision as one made to protect the people of South Korea from nuclear attack pointing out that “the government should not be faltered by the opinion of other countries when addressing such an important issue.”
Thae also pointed out that the Achilles heel of the Kim Jong Un regime is the unclear status of his legitimacy within the so-called Paektu bloodline. Unlike Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un has many issues relating to his birth mother and bloodline. Kim Jong Il went through a ‘bottom-up’ process of succession for more than ten years, experiencing the purges and internal struggles within the Party before being appointed as an official successor, Thae said, but “due to Kim Jong Il’s unexpected death, Kim Jong Un had to go through a ‘top-down’ process of succession, which made it hard for him to understand the qualities needed for leadership in the North.”
“Until 2008, no one knew much about Kim Jong Un’s existence, even the most prominent figures of the Kim Jong Il regime, let alone the ordinary residents. Naturally, Kim Jong Un is experiencing difficulty as he has to lead executives who are 30-40 years older than him, while lacking proper education as a successor. After coming to South Korea, many asked me if the name of Kim Jong Un’s birth mother is ‘Ko Young Hee’ or ‘Ko Yong Hee,’ but even I do not know her exact name because it hasn’t been inscribed on her gravestone,” Thae added.
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