What North Korean leader Kim Jong Un fears more than sanctions, cyber strikes, and military power, according to the former number two diplomat in North Korea’s London embassy, is that black market South Korean TV dramas – like the wildly popular ‘Descendants of the Sun’ - will crack open the cloud of secrecy and myth protecting him, and trigger an uprising.
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The House Foreign Affairs committee got a rare insight into the mindset and motivations of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un from the highest ranking defector ever to flee the north, former deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom Thae Yong-ho.
“Today Kim Jong un thinks that only nuclear weapons and ICBMs can help him avoid the continuing dissolution of the North Korean system,” Thae told the committee. “As more and more people gradually become informed about the reality of their living conditions the government will either have to change or face the consequences of their increasing dissatisfaction.”
Thae’s argument is that Kim is worried about what will happen when North Koreans get a look at the prosperity south of the border, knows he can’t act against South Korea while the U.S. is protecting it, and needs the threat of nuclear attack to scare Washington away. That need for a lever to pry the U.S. away from South Korea, according to Thae, is why Kim is so determined to build a nuclear tipped intercontinental ballistic missile.
Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce called the hearing to further his push for even tougher sanctions against Pyongyang, and while Thae agreed stepped up sanctions are needed, he said the key to breaking Kim’s grip on power is to puncture the myth that Kim Jong Un is the direct and sole descendant of his father Kim Jong Il and grandfather Kim Il Sung.
“We should try and concentrate our efforts to educate North Koreans that Kim is not a God, he is just a normal human being, and Kim’s family is not the family of a God,” Thae said, before offering up an alternative story that would be deeply shocking to everyday North Koreans.
“He was a hidden boy by his father. He was kept secretly and silently in Switzerland. But the majority of the North Korean population do not know this fact. Why, even now can’t Kim Jong Un produce a single photo of him with his grandfather? Because his grandfather did not know the existence of this boy.”
That hidden history – weaponized through TV shows and movies – is what the West should be pursuing, Thae argued.
His personal experience taught him about the power of entertainment and information tech to change lives. In London his two boys got used to video games and Facebook messaging and the internet, Thae knew he could never take them back to North Korea, so in August 2016 he took his wife and sons, and fled.
“Had we not defected I fear that someday my sons would have cursed me for forcing them back.”