North Korea’s elite are outwardly expressing their discontent towards Kim Jong-un and his government as more outside information trickles into the isolated nation, the country’s former deputy ambassador to London has said.
Thae Yong-ho defected to South Korea in August last year and since December has been speaking to media and appearing on television to discuss his defection and his life as a North Korean envoy.
“When Kim Jong-un first came to power, I was hopeful that he would make reasonable and rational decisions to save North Korea from poverty, but I soon fell into despair watching him purging officials for no proper reasons,” Thae said during his first news conference with foreign media on Wednesday.
“Low-level dissent or criticism of the regime, until recently unthinkable, is becoming more frequent,” said Thae, who spoke in fluent, British-accented English. “We have to spray gasoline on North Korea, and let the North Korean people set fire to it.”
Thae, 54, has said publicly that dissatisfaction with Kim prompted him to flee his post. Two university-age sons and his wife defected with him.
North and South Korea are technically still at war as their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. The north, which is subject to UN sanctions over its nuclear and missile programmes, regularly threatens to destroy the south and its main ally, the US.
Thae is the most senior official to have fled North Korea and entered public life in the south since the 1997 defection of Hwang Jang-yop, the brains behind the North’s governing ideology, Juche, which combines Marxism and extreme nationalism.
The modern North Korean system had “nothing to do with true communism”, Thae said, adding that the elite had watched with unease as countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam and the former Soviet Union embraced economic and social reforms.