North Korean defector to Congress: Invest more in information campaigns to stop Pyongyang

A high-ranking North Korean defector is recommending that U.S. lawmakers greatly increase the dissemination of information inside the isolated country, saying funding for such efforts pales in comparison to U.S. military spending but will ultimately be more effective.

“We cannot change the policy of terror of the Kim Jong Un regime. But we can educate North Korean population to stand up by disseminating outside information,” Thae Yong Ho told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday. “The U.S. is spending billions of dollars to cope with the military threat. And yet how much does the U.S. spend each year on information activities involving North Korea in a year? Unfortunately, it may be tiny fraction.”

Thae was North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom until 2016, when he defected to South Korea in order to save his sons from leading, “a life like me, as a modern-day slave.” He is the highest-ranking North Korean defector in two decades. His first visit to Washington, D.C., comes as President Trump is preparing to depart on his first trip to Asia, where North Korea is expected to be a major topic in his meetings.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has made significant progress in recent months in his missile and nuclear programs, twice testing intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that could hit parts of the United States and carrying out a hydrogen bomb test.

Amid that, Kim and Trump have engaged in a war of words. The North Korean leader has called Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard,” while Trump has taken to calling Kim “Little Rocket Man.”

In addition to focusing on information campaigns, Thae on Wednesday said the United States should meet with Kim at least once.

“Before any military action is taken, I think it is necessary to meet Kim Jong Un at least once to understand his thinking and to try to convince him that he would be destroyed if he continues his current direction,” he said.

Thae said Kim is clinging to his missile and nuclear programs as average North Koreans are increasingly interested in outside media, and free markets thrive.

“Contrary to the official policy and wish of the regime, the free markets are flourishing. As more and more people get used to free and capitalist-style markets, the state-owned socialist economic system becomes increasingly forgotten about,” he said. “The citizens do not care about state propaganda but increasingly watch illegally imported South Korean movies and dramas. The domestic system of control is weakening as the days go by.”

Those changes make it “increasingly possible” to consider a civilian uprising in North Korea similar to the Arab Spring, Thae said.

“Today, Kim Jong Un thinks that only nuclear weapons and ICBMs can help him avert the continuing disintegration of the North Korean system,” Thae added.

Kim also thinks he can force the United States to accept North Korea as a nuclear power, Thae said.

“Frankly, Kim Jong Un is not fully aware of the strength and might of American military power,” he said. “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.”

When asked by Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) what specific information the United States should disseminate, Thae said most North Koreans do not even know Kim’s birth date and other basic biographical information about Kim and his family that would prove they “are not gods.”

The United States also needs to educate North Koreans about democracy to show them how "stupid" their political system is, Thae added. 

Rep. Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelTop Dem hits Trump administration over lack of transparency in Cuba attacks House passes bill to revoke passports of terror suspects North Korean defector to Congress: Invest more in information campaigns to stop Pyongyang MORE (D-N.Y.), the committee's ranking member, then asked whether there’s anything to suggest that new information efforts will be successful and how he would go about them.

Thae said that Kim went so far as to publicly execute people who watched South Korean content when it first arrived in North Korea. But he added that those executions didn’t stop North Koreans from watching South Korean content.

The South Korean content, though, simply entertains North Koreans, rather than having a message directed at them, Thae said. As such, he recommended the “very simple” measure of the United States creating content directed at North Koreans.

“It’s time we should invest to make that kind of very simple … concepts which can tell basic concepts of freedom, human rights and democracy,” he said.