A suspicious disclosureIt has been found that Jo Song-gil, the former North Korean acting ambassador to Rome, has been living in South Korea quietly since July 2019 amid deepening public curiosity over his whereabouts over the past two years. We welcome his defection to South Korea, as it means the high-level diplomat with sensitive information on North Korea managed to escape the tyranny of Kim Jong-un.
The diplomat, whose father and father-in-law are both members of the elite in North Korea, reportedly had been engaged in supplying luxury goods from Italy to the Kim regime. The defection of an ambassador-level North Korean official was the first since the launch of the Kim regime in 2012. His defection is a reminder of the miserable lives of North Koreans across the border.
Therefore, if his defection to South Korea is made known to North Koreans, it will spark skepticism about the Kim dynasty. Jo’s defection could certainly deal a critical blow to the regime given the opening of the 8th Congress of the Workers’ Party scheduled for January 2021. North Korea already began its “80-day combat” to reinforce internal unity ahead of the big political event.
Regrettably, however, the daughter of the former acting ambassador was repatriated to Pyongyang. If he publicly criticizes the Kim regime, his daughter will most likely suffer, even including the possibility of execution. That’s why the diplomat has been abstaining from public activities and silently working for a research institute that deals with North Korean affairs. We understand that decision.
Nevertheless, some questions remain. First of all, we cannot but wonder why the news about his defection broke now — and how it did so. It is common sense that the North Korean diplomat would not voluntarily disclose his defection when his daughter is basically being held hostage in North Korea.
But the Moon Jae-in administration is in a predicament after North Korean soldiers killed a South Korean fisheries official and burned his corpse in the Yellow Sea last month. The public increasingly demands an explanation of this tragic death from the government. That threw cold water on the Moon administration’s desire to break the deadlock in inter-Korean relations. The big news under such circumstances could be linked to the need for the government to divert the public’s attention from the brutal murder of a South Korean official at sea. The lead-up to the breaking of the news about the North Korean diplomat’s defection should be clarified.
At the same time, the Moon administration should make public the diplomat’s activities in Italy and his motivation to defect to South Korea as long as it does not endanger his daughter in the North. Our government must not make the mistake of provoking unnecessary misunderstanding from citizens by trying to conceal even minimum facts. Otherwise, public suspicion about its obedient attitude toward Pyongyang will only deepen.