Thae testifying at the U.S. Capitol in November 2017
July 25, 1962|
Pyongyang, North Korea
|Revised Romanization||Tae Yeong-ho|
Thae Yong-ho (Hangul: 태영호; Hanja: 太永浩; Korean pronunciation: [tʰɛ.jʌŋ.ɦo], born July 25, 1962) is a former North Korean diplomat. He was North Korea's deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom, prior to defecting with his family to South Korea in 2016. Thae has been variously described as the highest-ranking North Korean official to ever defect, and as the highest-ranking North Korean defector since the 1997 defection of juche ideologist Hwang Jang Yop. In August 2016, the South Korean government confirmed that Thae and his family were under their protection. He now lives in South Korea.
Thae is married to O Hye-son (Korean: 오혜선), a member of the influential O family in North Korea. They have two sons. Their older son is a graduate of a British university, and their younger son, who was born in Denmark, when Thae was serving as a diplomat there, was studying at a London school. The younger son had recently been offered a place to study computer science at Imperial College London. However, the family had been recalled to Pyongyang just before Thae's defection. Thae was able to escape with his wife and children, but his brother and sister were left behind in North Korea. Thae stated after his defection that "I'm sure that my relatives and my brothers and sisters are either sent to remote, closed areas or to prison camps, and that really breaks my heart."
According to BBC reports, Thae is convivial, and enjoys Indian food, playing golf and tennis. In addition to Korean and English, he speaks fluent Mandarin. In 2015, he escorted Kim Jong-chul, the older brother of Kim Jong-un, to an Eric Clapton concert in London. During his time in London, he lived in a two-bedroom flat in West London. Thae stated that he defected as he did not want his children who were used to a life of freedom in the United Kingdom to live a life of oppression in North Korea.
Prior to his defection, Thae was one of North Korea's elite, being regarded by observers as a sophisticated diplomat who was one of the "best and brightest" in the country. Following Thae's defection, the North Korean government denounced him as "human scum," accused him, without evidence, of crimes including embezzlement and child rape, and unsuccessfully petitioned the British to extradite him to North Korea for trial.
Since his defection, Thae has given many talks and interviews about North Korea's secretive, authoritarian, and frequently violent government. Citing the killings of Kim Jong-nam and Jang Song-thaek, Thae believes that he is likely a target for assassination by Kim Jong-un due to his defection and outspokenness. In an interview in January 2017, Thae stated that the United Nations sanctions on North Korea were hurting the Kim regime, and that the regime is under significant pressure. In another interview the same month, Thae said, "I am very determined to do everything possible to pull down the regime to save not only my family members but also the whole North Korean people from slavery." Thae believes that "Kim Jong-un's regime one day will collapse by a people's uprising." In an interview in April 2017, Thae stated that Kim was "desperate in maintaining his rule" and was relying heavily on its development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to deter an external attack and preserve his grip on power.
Thae worked as an adviser at the Institute for National Security Strategy since early 2017, an organization affiliated with the National Intelligence Service, and he resigned from the job out of personal will in May 2018.
Thae testified before the House Foreign Relations Committee in November 2017. Thae advised the use of soft power, such as disseminating outside information, to weaken Kim Jong-un's rule. He stated that the North Korean regime wants nuclear weapons in order to intimidate the U.S. into withdrawing its military forces from South Korea, thus weakening South Korea. He also equated the North Korean regime to that of apartheid-era South Africa and Nazi Germany.
In May 2018, Thae published a book entitled "Cryptography From the Third-Floor Secretariat" (Hangul: 3층 서기실의 암호; Hanja: 3層 書記室의 暗號), a memoir of Thae's life as a North Korean diplomat. The book then became a bestseller in South Korea. 10,000 copies of the first print were sold out in just four days.
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The 542-page book, titled “Cryptography From the Third-Floor Secretariat,” recounts Mr. Thae’s life as a North Korean diplomat before he fled to South Korea in 2016, becoming one of the highest-profile defectors from the North in years.
- "Defector's book becomes best-seller in Korea". Yonhap. 2018-05-25.
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- Quotations related to Thae Yong-ho at Wikiquote