Thae Yong-ho had been a high ranking official with North Korea under Kim Jong Un, serving as the country’s Deputy Ambassador to the United Kingdom. In 2016, though, Yong-ho took his family and defected to South Korea, who kept him under protection. Yong-ho had to leave his two siblings behind, and he sadly stated that “I’m sure that my relatives and my brothers and sisters are either sent to remote, closed areas or to prison camps, and that really breaks my heart.”
Now, Yong-ho is working with world governments on what they need to do to overcome the Kim Jong Un regime in North Korea. Yong-ho spoke with the United States House Foreign Affairs Committee and said that “We cannot change the policy of terror of the Kim Jong Un regime. But we can educate North Korean population to stand up by disseminating outside information.” He added that North Koreans are poorly educated for the most part, and that they’re taught to think of Kim Jong Un as a sort of god.
“So we should tell North Korean people that Kim Jong Un, and his father Kim Jong Il, and his grandfather Kim Il Sung, the whole member of (the) Kim dynasty, are not gods,” Yong-ho said. “Majority of North Koreans do not know (Kim Jong Il) had several ladies to live with.”
As for North Korea’s continued attempts at developing nuclear weapons, Yong-ho says that other countries should keep applying pressure on North Korea, and even increasing pressure. “I think first Kim Jong Un still believe he can achieve this goal (of developing nuclear weapons),” Yong-ho said. “We should continue to tell the North Korean leadership, and if possible with Kim Jong Un himself, that America will not accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state.”
Yong-ho told Congress “It is necessary to reconsider whether we have tried all non-military options before we decide that military action against North Korea is all that is left. Before any military action is taken, I think it is necessary to meet Kim Jong Un, at least once, to understand his thinking and try to convince him that he would be destroyed.”
One important factor that could force Kim Jong Un’s hand is the effect that increased sanctions has on supplies in North Korea. “When North Korea starts to open its war stockpiles of food and oil, then we may see how long North Korea is sustained,” Yong-ho said. A low supply of food and increasing information to North Koreans could cause a revolt. However, Yong-ho warns that it would be short-lived. “There is no doubt that Kim Jong Un would stamp it out mercilessly with his forces, even tanks,” he said.
Yong-ho explains that Kim Jong Un has become obsessed with power, first in his own country and then on a global scale. Kim Jong Un hadn’t grown up in North Korea, instead spending much of his youth in Switzerland, and had to be eased into power when his father, Kim Jong Il, passed away. “When Kim Jong Un first became the leader of North Korea…at his early stages he thought that the absolute authority of the power of the new leader of North Korea would naturally delegate to him,” Yong-ho said. “But what he experienced in his first few years…was not the case.”
Kim Jong Un developed a short temper when he wasn’t taken seriously at first, especially by those who were high ranking in the country. According to Yong-ho, whenever Kim Jong Un had a meeting, “maybe 80 to 90 percent of the audience would sleep,” he said. “So (Kim Jong Un) learned that there was no enthusiasm – even in the elite group – on policy discussions.” North Korea’s leader punished one official for keeping his eyes shut during a meeting, and then decided to pursue nuclear weapons.
Keeping the amount of outside information flowing into North Korea is a big step in putting an end to the Kim Jong Un regime, Yong-ho said. “Contrary to the official policy and wish of the regime, the free markets are flourishing…the citizens do not care about state propaganda, but increasingly watch illegally imported South Korean movies and dramas.” Even certain films produced in the United States are allowed in North Korea, but South Korean ones aren’t.
Trying to negotiate with Kim Jong Un is a “waste of time,” Yong-ho says. He suggests that arming the people with information that shows what life is like in countries such as South Korea or the United States could counter brainwashing done by the North Korean government. “As more and more people gradually become informed about the reality of their living conditions, the North Korean government will either have to change and adapt in positive ways for its citizens, or to face the consequences of their escalating dissatisfaction,” Yong-ho said.