North Korea’s Jong Tae Se To Join South Korean Team

North Korea's World Cup 2010 hero Jong Te Se is confirmed to join a South Korean club - but how will the National Security Law affect the transfer, and what will North Korea think of the deal?
January 4th, 2013
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North Korean football player Jong Tae-se will join a first-division South Korean club next week after moving from Cologne in Germany, Yonhap News confirmed on Thursday. Suwon Samsung Bluewings’s General Manager Lee Ho-Seung told AFP,

We’ve reached an agreement with Koln to transfer Jong to us. Jong will arrive here as early as next Monday for a medical test. If he passes the test, we will sign a contract with him.

Suwon agreed to pay Koln €300,000 (USD $395,850) as a transfer fee, Lee said. Yonhap News agency added that Jong’s annual salary would be around 400 million won (USD $376,000).

Jong, born in Japan to a South Korean father and a North Korean mother, has both North Korean passport. As such, the transfer has drawn attention in some quarters due to  South Korea’s controversial National Security Law (NSL), which forbids individuals in the South to praise North Korea or its leaders. North Korea expert Chris Green explains that Jong will have to be careful,

He’ll be fine as long as he does the sensible thing and avoids giving interviews in which he says anything that might be construed as complimentary or in any way “pro” North Korean.

Normally, the NSL also makes it illegal for South Korean citizens to mingle with DPRK citizens. And even though Jong was raised in Japan, his DPRK passport make him technically a Northern citizen. To get around this, it is likely that South Korean law will have to be flexible to ensure all interactions with ROK citizens are risk free from a legal perspective. Chris Green explains,

There are elements of the NSL that are considered “current” and those that are not. The ROK has a very interesting approach to “legality”, so I don’t expect his very presence to be an issue. The law is applied more flexibly than many people realize.

With Jong having played a key part in the 2010 World Cup, it was not immediately clear how North Korea would respond to its star player joining a South Korean team. But it is important to note that the move wasn’t a first, with DPRK player An Yong-hak having played at Busan and Suqon, and some North and South Koreans having played together at European Clubs.  Chris Green adds,

The North Koreans will be similarly pragmatic, I am sure. They can’t do anything about it, for one thing, and are more interested in success than anything else.

According to reports, Bluewings official Lee Ho-seung says Jong had sought the transfer and the negotiations lasted several months. Suwon is one of the most popular clubs in the country and has won the K-league championship four times since its founding in 1995 – with its most recent title coming in 2008.

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About the Author

Chad O'Carroll

Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.