Go to contents

[Opinion] Political Asylum by North Korean High-Ranking Officials

[Opinion] Political Asylum by North Korean High-Ranking Officials

Posted November. 05, 2004 23:07,   


In the late 1990s, a Korean American entrepreneur, known just by K, started a secretive project in a small Latin American country. The project was to accommodate hundreds of North Korean agrarian immigrants. On the surface, it was an immigration project. In reality, it was part of an evacuation plan for the North Korean ruling elite as part of an emergency contingency. K, who served as a “behind-the-scenes go-between” for the Kim Young Sam government with the North, said that “the project was feasible.” However, there was a prerequisite for him, a naturalized U.S. citizen, to proceed with the project: tacit approval or assistance by the U.S. government.

Little has been known about what has since happened to the project. After the 2000 North-South summit, K washed his hands of all North Korean undertakings. However, the image of him passionately arguing for the need for the project is still lingering before my eyes. His rationale: there should be a final way out for the North Korean leadership in the face of an emergency to reduce instability on the Korean peninsula. His allegations made sense, given the hard economic condition back then in North Korea.

One of the signs of a collapsing old dictatorship is its elite’s breakaway from the system. North Korea began to post these signs as early as late 1990. An elder sister of the wife of Chairman Kim Jong Il, defected to the West in 1995. Former Workers’ Party Secretary Hwang Jang-yop escaped to the South in 1997. All these are typical signs. In addition, row after row, many North Korean diplomats, including Chang Seung-gil, the North’s former ambassador to Egypt, made political asylum. What should be noticed is that higher ranking figures with more high-quality information are increasingly choosing the U.S. for asylum. It is hard to exactly confirm due the secrecy of their cases, it should be noted that more members of the North Korean elite could have defected.

Two days ago, the Japanese media reported that “the eldest son of Workers’ Party operational director Oh Geuk Ryol appears to have defected to the U.S. Although it could end up as a groundless rumor, just as a report on Workers’ Party assistant director Ghil Jae Gyeong’s asylum turned false last year. However, does it all prove that the North Korean political establishment has become vulnerable? I wonder how reliable the convictions of the South’s policymakers who are laying out policies based on “the impossibility of a North Korean collapse” are.