North Korea’s former deputy ambassador to Britain has told a group of reporters that a “popular uprising” against North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un is imminent. Thae Yong Ho, who defected to South Korea in August of 2016, said that sanctions against the regime and its inability to control the flow of information about the outside world were weakening its grip on authority.
Thae’s comments came during a press conference in Seoul, the first time he has spoken to international media since his defection.
During the press conference, Thae, who speaks fluent English, declared that “Kim Jong-Un’s days are numbered,” as information about the outside world becomes more accessible. “Low-level dissent or criticism of the regime, until recently unthinkable, is becoming more frequent,” he added.
The spread of information in North Korea has come despite extremely tight government control of television, phone networks, and the Internet. Both USB drives containing international media and contraband Chinese cell phones are being smuggled into the country with increasing regularity. However, that has triggered a corresponding crackdown on illicit information by the Kim Jong-Un regime.
Of course, Thae’s perspective is both important and limited. He is a member of North Korea’s elite, whose father was a general under North Korean founder Kim Il Sung. He was educated in China, served in North Korea’s London embassy for years before his defection, and sent his children to local schools there. That elite status means that while he certainly has strong ties to North Korean leaders, his access to broader popular sentiment may be more limited.
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Thae and his family are now living in South Korea, where despite being under heavy guard, he says his “sons are happy because they are now feeling true freedom”.