Jo Song Gil, the acting North Korean ambassador to Italy, and his wife fled the embassy in November last year and have gone into hiding, raising possibility that they sought asylum in a third country. An official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Italy said they are not aware of Jo’s asylum request but local media reported that he might have requested asylum to other government agencies, such as the country’s spy agency. The whereabouts of Jo is unknown but it is expected to be revealed once the asylum is confirmed and his safety is guaranteed.
A growing number of North Korean defectors including Jo show the vulnerability of the North Korean regime. In particular, the elites of the regime, such as diplomats, who have experienced the outside world must have felt despair and a sense of shame to remain in the regime. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Italy said it was recently notified by the North of the replacement of Jo. It appears Jo, who was about to be summoned back to his country, decided to risk his life and seek asylum rather than going back to the suffocating country.
Jo comes from a family of diplomats, with both his father and father-in-law serving as ambassadors. He was responsible for procuring luxury items for North Korean high-ranking officials, according to former North Korean diplomat Thae Yong Ho, who fled to South Korea in 2016. The primary job of North Korean diplomats is in fact earning foreign exchanges for the country. The North Korean regime is pushing its diplomats to carry out illegal acts to earn foreign exchanges as tougher sanctions are being imposed on the country. A fear of being summoned back to the country and a burden of earning foreign exchanges leave them no other choices but to seek asylum. Jo must have been feeling a heavy burden working in Italy, which actively participated in sanctions against the North by deporting a North Korean ambassador to Italy.
It is impossible for the North Korean regime to stop its people from escaping from the most closed country in the world unless it becomes a member of the international society as a normal country. To be sure, there will be side effects to opening the country. But it is raising the risk of internal collapse by strengthening the monitoring of its people and closing borders. There is no other way for the regime to survive but to speed up the denuclearization process and soften the impact of opening the country with the support of the international society.