Thae Yong-ho

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Thae Yong-ho
Thae Yong-ho (Cropped).png
Thae testifying at the U.S. Capitol in November 2017
Native name 태영호
Born (1962-07-25) July 25, 1962 (age 56)
Pyongyang, North Korea
Residence South Korea
Citizenship South Korea
Occupation Diplomat
Known for Defection
Spouse(s) O Hye-son
Children 2 sons
Korean name
Chosŏn'gŭl 태영호
Hancha 太永浩[1]
Revised Romanization Tae Yeong-ho
McCune–Reischauer T'ae Yŏng-ho

Thae Yong-ho (Hangul태영호; Hanja太永浩;[2] 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.[3][4] Thae has been variously described as the highest-ranking North Korean official to ever defect,[4] and as the highest-ranking North Korean defector since the 1997 defection of juche ideologist Hwang Jang Yop.[5] In August 2016, the South Korean government confirmed that Thae and his family were under their protection.[4] 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.[6][7] They have two sons. Their older son is a graduate of a British university,[8] and their younger son, who was born in Denmark, when Thae was serving as a diplomat there, was studying at a London school.[9] The younger son had recently been offered a place to study computer science at Imperial College London.[9] However, the family had been recalled to Pyongyang just before Thae's defection.[10] Thae was able to escape with his wife and children, but his brother and sister were left behind in North Korea.[5] 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."[11][12]

According to BBC reports, Thae is convivial, and enjoys Indian food, playing golf and tennis.[10] In addition to Korean and English, he speaks fluent Mandarin.[6] In 2015, he escorted Kim Jong-chul, the older brother of Kim Jong-un, to an Eric Clapton concert in London.[13] During his time in London, he lived in a two-bedroom flat in West London.[8] 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.[14][15] Following Thae's defection, the North Korean government denounced him as "human scum," accused him, without evidence,[16] of crimes including embezzlement and child rape, and unsuccessfully petitioned the British to extradite him to North Korea for trial.[17]

Since his defection, Thae has given many talks and interviews about North Korea's secretive, authoritarian, and frequently violent government.[5] 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.[5] 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.[18] 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."[11] Thae believes that "Kim Jong-un's regime one day will collapse by a people's uprising."[11][19] 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.[5]

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.[20]

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.[21][22] 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.[23][24] 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" (Hangul3층 서기실의 암호; Hanja3層 書記室의 暗號), a memoir of Thae's life as a North Korean diplomat.[25] The book then became a bestseller in South Korea.[26] 10,000 copies of the first print were sold out in just four days.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "朝公使太永浩投诚或由韩英情报机构联手促成". (in Chinese). Retrieved 2016-08-22. 
  2. ^ @uni_kr (17 August 2016). "태영호 공사는" (Tweet) – via Twitter. 
  3. ^ "North Korea's deputy ambassador defects in London: reports". Reuters. 2016-08-17. 
  4. ^ a b c "North Korea diplomat defects to South". BBC News. 2016-08-17. Retrieved 2016-08-17. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Lester Holt & Alexander Smith, North Korean Defector Tells Lester Holt 'World Should be Ready', NBC News (April 3, 2017).
  6. ^ a b Rothwell, James (20 August 2016). "Revealed: Secret lives of the North Korean diplomats tucked away in a London surburb [sic]". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2016-08-20. 
  7. ^ Shim, Elizabeth. Kim Jong Un cracking down on elites after diplomat's defection. United Press International. August 31, 2016.
  8. ^ a b Harding, Luke; Nagapetyants, Dina (2016-08-17). "North Korean defector Thae Yong-ho was 'sick and tired of regime'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2016-08-20. 
  9. ^ a b Harding, Luke (2016-08-17). "High-ranking North Korean diplomat in London defects to South Korea". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2016-08-17. 
  10. ^ a b Evans, Steve (16 August 2016). "My friend the North Korean defector". BBC News. 
  11. ^ a b c People will rise against N Korean regime, says defector, BBC News (January 25, 2017).
  12. ^ Thae Yong-ho: Interview with a North Korean defector Al Jazeera, 101 East, May 4, 2017.
  13. ^ Choe, Sang-hun; Gladstone, Rick (2016-08-17). "North Korea's No. 2 Diplomat in London Defects to the South". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-08-18. 
  14. ^ Blair, David (17 August 2016). "North Korea's 'tough' and 'sophisticated' deputy ambassador in London defects to the South". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2016-08-20. 
  15. ^ "North Korean defector Thae Yong-ho was among Pyongyang's 'best and brightest'". South China Morning Post. 19 August 2016. Retrieved 2016-08-20. 
  16. ^ Sang-Hun, Choe (20 August 2016). "North Korea Says Diplomat Who Defected Is 'Human Scum'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2018-01-18. 
  17. ^ "North Korea calls UK-based defector 'human scum'". BBC News. 2016-08-20. Retrieved January 4, 2018. 
  18. ^ Paula Hancocks (January 25, 2017). "Kim Jong Un wants to meet Trump, says defector". CNN. 
  19. ^ Thae Yong-ho: Interview with a North Korean defector Al Jazeera, 101 East, May 4, 2017
  20. ^ "High-profile defector quits state-sponsored job". Korea Joongang Daily. May 25, 2018. Retrieved 25 May 2018. 
  21. ^ Thae Yong-ho Prepared Testimony, U.S. House Committee on Foreign Relations (November 1, 2017).
  22. ^ North Korea defector urges US to use soft power. BBC New (November 2, 2017).
  23. ^ "North Korean Defector Testifies House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing". 
  24. ^ B.R. Myers (20 December 2017). "North Korea's Unification Drive". 
  25. ^ Sang-Hun, Choe (May 23, 2018). "Book Explores Kim Jong-un's Feelings About His Mother, and Other Family Tales". The New York Times. 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. 
  26. ^ "Defector's book becomes best-seller in Korea". Yonhap. 2018-05-25. 
  27. ^ "Senior Defector's Memoir Sells out". 18 May 2018. Retrieved 26 May 2018. 

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