Top North Korean Defector Claims That North Korean Society Is Changing

Wesley Koo, Nov. 3, 2017, 10:03 a.m.

Thae Yong-ho, the highest-ranking North Korean official to defect in two decades, on Wednesday told U.S. lawmakers that changes are taking place in his home country that the regime may soon be unable to contain. "There are great and unexpected changes taking place within North Korea. Contrary to the official policy and wish of the regime, the free markets are flourishing," Thae told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill. North Koreans "do not care about state propaganda but increasingly watch illegally imported South Korean movies and dramas."

He called on the U.S. to exert more "soft power" supporting these changes. "We can educate the North Korean population to stand up by disseminating outside information," he added.

"However, is the United States really doing enough in this regard? The U.S. is spending billions of dollars to cope with the military threat. Yet how much does the U.S. spend each year on information activities involving North Korea in a year? Unfortunately, it may be a tiny fraction."

Thae, who was the No. 2 man in the North Korean Embassy in London before defecting to the South, added, "The North Korean regime is very afraid of dissemination of information. So I think, if we continue to disseminate and if we continue to make tailor-made content for North Korea, then I think we can make a change in North Korea."

He added his fellow countrymen should be educated in "the basic concepts of freedom, human rights and democracy." He also urged the U.S. government to negotiate with China to create safe escape routes from North Korea to South Korea, which would result in mass defections of North Koreans and could cause the collapse of the Kim Jong-un regime.

Thae explained that Kim does not fully grasp U.S. military power, and this miscalculation is prompting him to develop nuclear weapons and seek direct talks with Washington to get American troops to withdraw from South Korea.

And Kim believes that foreign investors will pull out of South Korea next, triggering a South Vietnam-style collapse, he said. "Before any military action is taken, I think it is necessary to meet Kim Jong-un at least once to understand his thinking and to try to convince him that he would be destroyed if he continues his current direction," he added.

Asked if the North Korean leader is capable of launching a nuclear attack against South Korea, Thae said he cannot say for certain, but he believes Kim is capable of doing anything when threatened.

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