Hyun Kyung-dae sees Koreas’ future in North’s defectors

Home > National > People

print dictionary print

Hyun Kyung-dae sees Koreas’ future in North’s defectors


Hyun Kyung-dae, Executive vice chairman of the National Unification Advisory Council

More than 25,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea so far, according to government estimates, which accounts for nearly 0.1 percent of North Korea’s entire population of 24 million people.

In this respect, North Korean defectors will be the stepping-stone to unification, said Hyun Kyung-dae, executive vice chairman of the National Unification Advisory Council (NUAC), a presidential advisory body on unification.

Last week, North and South Korea agreed to hold reunions for war-torn families later this month, giving hundreds of elderly relatives a chance to meet for the first time in decades, although the North threatened to cancel the meeting a day after the agreement.

With these latest developments unfolding, the JoongAng Ilbo sat down with Hyun to discuss ways to support North Korean defectors and his views on the current inter-Korean relationship.

Q. What do you think is the importance of defectors?

A. When North Korean defectors send money to their families in North Korea, they send enough to feed about 20 of their relatives and family members. In doing so, they can also inform North Koreans about developments in South Korea. That’s why we are focusing on helping North Korean defectors to settle in South Korea as this year’s goal. Almost one out of every 1,000 North Koreans has defected to South Korea. Our attitude toward those North Korean defectors will determine the future of inter-Korean relations.

What do you make of President Park Geun-hye’s comment that reunification would be a “jackpot”?

President Park mentioned the word “reunification” 22 times during her New Year’s press conference. The president is fully aware that achieving reunification is the most important milestone in securing peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia. President Park attended the executive committee of our organization last November and asked the NUAC to play a leading role in helping North Korean defectors understand the government’s efforts. That is why the NUAC is planning to start a one-to-one mentoring program for North Korean defectors.

Could you elaborate on the specifics of this one-to-one mentoring program?

We are going to start a program we call Preparing Reunification One-Five. “One” means that with the support for defectors we can all become one, and “Five” stands for five separate programs - one-on-one mentoring, legal support, medical support, scholarship programs and job training. The idea is to accomplish “small reunifications” with defectors first.

What are your thoughts about the Kim Jong-un regime?

Kim Jong-un’s leadership has not yet been solidified. Last year, the North threatened with a nuclear weapon strike against the South and closed the Kaesong Industrial Complex last April. When the Southern government decided to pull out its businesspeople from the joint industry venture North Korea demanded that South Korea reopen the industrial complex. The leading figures of North Korea felt insulted. These kinds of strategic mistakes and provocations from the Northern side will lead North Korean officials to think that Kim Jong-un is an unreliable leader.

What is the most important factor in inter-Korean relations?

It is important for North Korea to build trust with South Korea and the international community. The inter-Korean relationship will be healthy only when North Korea shows that they are trustworthy. If the North shows sincere efforts to be integrated into the international community, progress can be made and we can move forward.

Could you guess when reunification will take place?

Well, if I knew the exact timing I guess I would have been an investor who could beat Warren Buffett. But one thing that I am sure of is that it will take place in the near future. Both economically and administratively, North Korea is on the verge of collapse and their people’s loyalty has faded away. The World Food Program announced that about 30 percent of North Koreans are suffering from malnutrition. Its corruption index is also the highest in the world.

Kim Jong-un executed his uncle and once-powerful member of the North’s inner circle, Jang Song-thaek, last year. And North Korea described Jang as “despicable human scum, worse than a dog.” Outsiders were appalled by the course of events related to the death of Jang. How did you feel about Jang’s fall?

Since the execution of Jang Song-thaek, the uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, North Korea has made reconciliation movements toward South Korea to improve the relationship. I believe that the execution of Jang Song-thaek showed the shaky reality of North Korea’s dictatorship, which they have at least formally insisted was constitutional.

In this respect, we also need to keep in mind that human rights violations in North Korea might be one of the most serious problem - even more pressing than North Korea’s nuclear weapons. If liberal-leaning figures in South Korea stay silent about this issue, their existence and ideology will be put into question.

(Vice chairman Hyun is from Jeju Island. He graduated from Ohyun High School and Seoul National University, then worked in the Seoul Supreme Prosecutor’s Office.

He was one of the early beneficiaries of the Jeongsu Scholarship, which was established by the former President Park Chung Hee in 1962. He met President Park Geun-hye in 1997 when she was the board president for Jeongsu and he was in charge of overseeing past scholarship recipients. Hyun was a five-time lawmaker and became close with President Park when he helped her win a Daegu by-election in 1998. Hyun was also one of Park’s seven core consultants before the presidential election in 2012.)

BY LEE YOUNG-JONG [enational@joongang.co.kr]

Log in to Twitter or Facebook account to connect
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
help-image Social comment?
lock icon

To write comments, please log in to one of the accounts.

Standards Board Policy (0/250자)