WASHINGTON – Kim Jong-un’s regime would crumble if China opened its borders to North Korean defectors, rather than treating them like illegal immigrants and repatriating, a prominent North Korean defector told Congress on Wednesday.
“If Chinese opened its routes for defectors to South Korea, I think (the) North Korean system would collapse in a very short span of time,” Thae Yong Ho told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
While serving as deputy chief of mission at North Korea’s UK embassy in 2016, Thae defected to South Korea with his wife and two sons. He is considered the highest-ranking North Korean official to abandon the country, having served as Kim’s No. 2 diplomat in the UK.
According to Thae’s testimony, there are about 30,000 North Korean defectors in South Korea, and tens of thousands are living in China as undocumented immigrants. China views North Korean defectors as illegal immigrants and has built dramatic fencing and riverbanks to prevent their flow into the country, Thae said. Chinese leaders have expressed concerned about a refugee crisis if North Korea were to collapse.
Thae, who as a teenager was sent to China for an elite educational program, also worked in China, Denmark and Sweden, living with what he described as “all kinds of political privileges and economic benefits” under the North Korean regime. Thae discussed how he believes Kim is underestimating the threat of U.S. military intervention.
“Frankly, Kim Jong-un is not fully aware of the strength and might of American military power,” Thae said in his opening remarks. “Because of this misunderstanding, Kim Jong-un genuinely believes that he can break the sanctions regime apart once he compels Washington to accept North Korea’s new status after successfully completing the development of his ICBM program and putting the new missiles into deployment.”
Thae said the U.S. and allies should meet in person with Kim Jong-un at least once before any military action is taken against his country. That meeting would be necessary, Thae said, to understand “his thinking and to try to convince him that he would be destroyed if he continues his current direction.”
Kim has orchestrated the firing of at least 20 missiles in 14 different tests since February, including an Aug. 29 launch over northern Japan – a test in which the North Korean regime threatened to target waters near U.S. territory in Guam.
Thae, who said that the North Korean population’s brainwashing begins around kindergarten age, called on the U.S. to develop new ways of feeding and smuggling transmissions and various communications into the country, so that citizens are more aware of the outside world. He suggested smuggling devices the size of smartphones, which broadcast American, South Korean and international television broadcasts.
“Frankly, that sounds like an effective use of money as compared to some of the other things that we’re doing to try to deal with this threat, because if we do not deal with this threat we are putting not only the people of South Korea but putting the American people in severe jeopardy here and danger,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) told Thae.
Thae said North Koreans are increasingly gaining access to “movies and dramas” illegally imported from South Korea. He explained that citizens have been brazenly smuggling micro SD cards into the country by stashing them in their nostrils.
Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), who met with Thae in August in South Korea’s capital, Seoul, said that it’s “critical” that the U.S. and its allies feed information into North Korea so that they can “better understand the corruption of the self-serving Kim regime.” He also urged “aggressive” implementation of the UN Security Council’s recently passed sanctions against the regime.
“By using all the tools at our disposal, we can bring the necessary pressure to bear to peacefully denuclearize the Korean peninsula,” Royce said.