Something curious is happening to North Korean officials abroad. A growing number of diplomats and other North Koreans working for the regime overseas are defecting from their posts.
Thae Yong Ho is probably not the only one in North Korea’s broadly defined diplomatic orbit to disappear from his post this year. The South Korean newspaper Joongang Daily, citing anonymous sources in South Korean intelligence, puts the number of diplomatic defections at as high as seven. More conservative estimates say it’s probably more like three.
“There’s a diplomat that works in Africa. Another fellow in Asia, somewhere in Southeast Asia. And then there’s Thae Yong Ho,” says Michael Madden, a visiting scholar at the U.S.-Korea Institute who tracks changes in North Korean personnel at North Korea Leadership Watch. “Those are the three that I know have vacated their posts. The other two [besides Thae], it’s never been clear where they have gone.”
The South Korean government said Friday that it’s seen a “series” of senior defections.
Jeong Joon-hee, a Unification Ministry spokesman, told a press briefing that these defections are believed to be “the result of Kim moving to consolidate his power and growing internal insecurity.” Jeong added, “We’re concerned that North Korea could make more provocative acts as it takes steps to prevent further defections.”