South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joo-hee said on Wednesday North Korean diplomat Thae Yong Ho defected for the sake of his family and because he was “tired of Kim Jong Un’s regime.”
Liberty in North Korea (LINK) Director of Research and Strategy Sokeel Park said the defection of the senior North Korean diplomat was a “unique situation,” and could lead to threats of retaliation from North Korea.
“There’s been those kind of things that have happened in the past for very high level defectors: assassination attempts, death threats … there will be protection from the South Korean authorities around this person, especially [in] the short term,” Park said.
Park said the defector Thae was the member of an elite family in North Korea, the son of a high-profile general. As with all high-profile defections, Park said the family still in North Korea could expect to face suspicion and possibly punishment in the future.
Park said it was unusual the diplomat had been with his entire immediate family overseas when he was posted. “That’s quite rare … a lot of the time there will be a son or an immediate family member that’s still back in North Korea kind of as collateral to make it harder for people to defect,” he said.
When asked why Thae may have defected to South Korea, rather than the United Kingdom where he was posted, Park said he may have been offered more incentives. “Maybe he would have better career prospects, for instance, if he came to South Korea, worked with the national intelligence service … rather than staying in the United Kingdom,” he said.