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Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
North Korean diplomat Thae Yong-ho, who was reported Tuesday to have defected from his post from the DPRK’s London embassy, is in South Korea, the Ministry of Unification (MoU) said on Wednesday afternoon during a special press briefing.
“The North’s Minister Thae Yong-ho, based in England, recently arrived in the South with his wife and children,” Unification Ministry spokesperson, Jeong Joon-hee, said.
“This is the highest profile diplomat among those who fled from the North,” the spokesperson added. “We ask your understanding that we can’t confirm the details, including the route.”
Thae, who held a Minister level position in London under Ambassador Hyun Hak Bong, was claimed yesterday to be in a “third country,” leading most observers to believe he was in neither Korea.
“About the motive of defection, it is known that Councillor Thae revealed he got sick and tired of the Kim Jong Un regime and yearned for a liberal and democratic regime, concerned about the future of his children,” MoU spokesperson Jeong added.
The spokesperson added that the defection illustrated the “North’s core layer considers there is no hope for the Kim Jong Un regime anymore… the perception that the North Korean regime already reached breaking point has been spreading and internal unity among the ruling class has been weakened.
A British observer yesterday said the case would be problematic for North Korea.
“A high-level defection…(is) deeply embarrassing for the regime,” John Nilsson-Wright, Head of the Asia Program at the London-based Chatham House think tank, said on Tuesday.
“London has always been an important diplomatic priority for the DPRK given the amount of personnel stationed there and the considerable resources devoted by the regime to maintaining its presence there,” he said. “The intelligence benefits to the UK and its allies from such a deflection are likely to prove valuable.”
Current North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, appointed this May, is the former DPRK Ambassador to London. A source familiar with North Korean foreign policy told NK News in July he maintains close relations with current Ambassador to London Hyun Hak Bong.
Longtime North Korea watcher Dr. Andrei Lankov said either fear about elite purges or increased awareness of the difficulties facing the North Korean state could have prompted the development.
“North Korean elites who can make a cool-headed assessment of the future of Korean peninsula may believe that the current system might fall at some time,” said Dr. Lankov. “As they are perfectly well aware of how they would be treated after the collapse, leaving before the fall is a very rational choice.”
Main picture: Youtube
Additional reporting: Dagyum Ji