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North Korea Defector: Kim Fears US Preventative Strike, Is Buying Time To Complete Nuclear Program

On Wednesday, The Wilson Center hosted a discussion on U.S. national security and the Korean Peninsula, which included the perspective of Ri Jonh-ho, a former senior ranking official of the Kim Jong-un regime, a professor of St Petersburg University, and a renowned author on issues related to North Korea at a conference hosted jointly with the Institute for Corean-American Studies (ICAS).

According to Yonhap News Agency, Ri said that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been communicating with officials in South Korea out of the fear the United States will launch a pre-emptive strike on his country.


North Korean defector Ri Jong-ho (R) and interpreter at a forum in Washington

Kim Jong-un is afraid that the U.S. will launch a preventative strike, and he is trying to buy time to complete his nuclear and missile programs,” said Ri, who served for three decades in Office 39 of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party. The office is responsible for raising funds for the ruling elite of North Korea.

Last year, CNN reported that Ri Jong-ho raised somewhere in the neighborhood of “$50 million and $100 million during his career.

Life was good. Ri helped bring in somewhere between $50 million and $100 million for North Korean elites, and was handsomely rewarded with luxuries most North Koreans couldn’t dream of in years past: a car, a color TV and some extra cash on the side, once rarities in the communist state but more commonplace now in the capital, Pyongyang.

Yonhap details Ri Jong-ho perspective of the current situation in North Korea, and surprisingly praises Trump’s recent adversarial efforts, saying the issue of human rights abuses is a powerful “weapon” against Kim and “the most effective means to resolve the North Korean standoff.”

“Kim Jong-un is struggling under the strongest-yet sanctions and military and diplomatic pressure, so he is trying to improve the situation by putting on a false front,” Ri said.

Allegations that sanctions are having no impact on the regime are untrue because the measures of the past year are the toughest in 25 years, and Kim is trying to “create a hole” in that sanctions regime, he added

Ri defected to South Korea in 2014 while running the Dalian, China, branch of a North Korean trading company. In 2016, he resettled in the U.S. state of Virginia.

“Depending on the circumstances, North Korea could hold South Koreans hostage and continue its threatening provocations,” he claimed.

Citing Pyongyang’s track record of extracting money from Seoul in return for progress in inter-Korean ties, Ri also alleged that the two sides struck a similar underhand deal this time.

He praised U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent efforts to highlight human rights abuses by the Pyongyang regime, saying the issue is a powerful “weapon” against Kim and the most effective means to resolve the North Korean standoff.

Earlier in the day, U.S. Navy Adm. Harry Harris – the senior officer overseeing military operations in the Pacific –  warned lawmakers on Capitol Hill that Kim’s goal is to reunify the Korean Peninsula under his rule. “I do think that he is after reunification under a single communist system,” Harris told the House Armed Services Committee.

“So he’s after what his grandfather failed to do and his father failed to do and he’s on a path to achieve what he feels is his natural place.”

Of course, the odds of that ever happening are zero, which is why – with nothing left to lose – Kim just could become increasingly more irrational one the NKorean nuclear program is complete.

Meanwhile, in preparation for the worst, three days before the Winter Olympics in South Korea, the South Korean press reported that the Chinese government had deployed 300,000 troops and multiple mobile strike groups to the North Korean border.

According to South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo news, “China is preparing for a potential war on the Korean Peninsula by reinforcing missile defenses near the border with North Korea” citing a report from Radio Free Asia. “Military units in Yanbian were relocated from Heilongjiang Province, thus adding 300,000 troops along the border.” The reason for the increased missile presence is that Chinese troops in the border area could be swept away if the North tore down the banks of the reservoirs or they were destroyed by missiles or air strikes, the source added.   

For now the world appears to have forgotten the red-knuckled military tension involving the nuclear-capable rogue state. However, when the Olympics end on February 25, and when the mask of fake diplomacy falls, it is virtually certain that the geopolitical tensions will resume right where they left off, most likely with another ICBM launch.