A high level North Korean defector shed light on the brutality of Kim Jong Un’s regime and its failing economic policies.
In his first public appearance in the United States since defecting from North Korea in 2014, former senior North Korean economic official Ri Jong Ho said dissent is growing within the highest ranks of North Korea’s leadership.
Ri said he and his family defected to South Korea after growing disillusioned with the communist regime. He said that those in North Korea’s leadership have been concerned about the purges and violent executions by the Kim regime.
“At the time, the government said they are not even going to be buried. They shot them into so many pieces that there wasn’t much of a body left after the shooting,” Ri said at an event hosted by the Asia Society.
Thousands of North Korean officials have been killed in recent years.
Ri said many of the senior people in the North Korean leadership, who were loyal to former North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, have been disappointed by the rule of his son, Kim Jong Un.
“We have to find hope somewhere else, we have to find a future, that’s why me and my family decided to defect,” he said.
At the same time, Kim Jong Un’s access to hard foreign currency has been extremely limited under new international sanctions. Kim relies on the money to keep those in senior ranks pleased.
As part of his work in North Korea, Ri was deployed to China as the head of the Korea Daehung Trading Corporation, which is managed by the so-called Office 39, a clandestine organization under the direct control of the Kim family.
This has given Ri a unique look into the inner workings of the North Korean economy.
“I was in the center stage in North Korea for 30 years and I can see the North Korean economy in the palm of my hand,” Ri said.
According to Ri, North Korea’s economy had already crumbled in the 1990s and has gone from bad to worse.
“The steel and metal factories have stopped, they are not in operation. All of the products that require steel have also stopped,” Ri said.
There is currently also hardly any power generation in North Korea, leaving the factories without electricity and common North Korean households struggling to survive.
“The North Korean leadership should not put their money in nuclear testing or missiles but instead use the money to develop the economy,” Ri said. “The people also feel the same, they are desperate for electricity generation, so that they can use it for farming.”
The situation has been made worse as a result of North Korea’s deteriorating relationship with China. North Korea depends on China for as much as 90 percent of its trade.
Under pressure from President Donald Trump, China has stepped up its pressure on North Korea. Last month, China voted in favor of a U.N. Security Council resolution imposing new sanctions on North Korea in response to a sixth underground nuclear test.
China also put additional sanctions in place, instructing Chinese banks to stop providing financing to North Korea and ordering North Korean businesses operating China to close down within 120 days.
“I don’t know if North Korea will survive a year [under] sanctions,” Ri said.