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A defector, who served as a high-ranking North Korean official overseeing remittances from abroad for many years, was optimistic about the “Hermit Kingdom” opening up to the outside world in the Kim Jong-un era.

Kim Tae-san, 60, told The Korea Times Wednesday that Kim Jong-un’s aunt and uncle ― Kim Kyong-hui and Jang Song-thaek ― are pragmatists sharing the view that economic reform is necessary for the impoverished nation.

The Kim-Jang couple is widely reported as key figures to play a decisive role in the power transition period in the North by helping the twenty-something leader.

“I had an opportunity to get to know Jang when I was in the North. To my knowledge, he has a clear understanding that North Korea needs to overhaul the economy to feed its starving people,” said Kim.

Jang, 65, is reportedly a top figure ultimately responsible for earning hard currency abroad and attracting foreign investments to the North.

Kim declined to specify how he came to be associated with the uncle of North Korea’s next leader.

Now the owner of a private English academy based in western Seoul, Kim said Jang’s wife Kim Kyong-hui is a “royal family” member who is very different from her brother, the late Kim Jong-il, when it comes to her attitude toward the people.

“Unlike her late brother, Kyong-hui is sympathetic about North Korean citizens fighting for meals every day and has an understanding of the plight facing them. She resembles her late father Kim Il-sung,” he said.

The defector described Jong-un’s aunt as a tough woman in a positive sense.

Several North Korean defectors here said the founder of the communist country was admired by the people even after he passed away in 1994. During the Kim Il-sung era, they said, few North Koreans starved to death.

Coupled with floods and drought, a famine swept the North in the mid-1990s, which occurred after Kim Jong-il took power, reportedly killing hundreds of thousands of North Koreans.

Kim Jong-il was portrayed by North Korean defectors as an ill-prepared leader responsible for mismanaging the economy.

Brewing discontent over Kim Jong-il led hundreds of thousands of North Koreans to escape from the communist country to China, South Korea or other countries for food.

Kim Tae-san predicted Jong-un’s aunt and uncle would advise the young successor not to repeat the mistakes made by his father when he takes power.

“Kyong-hui and her husband will convince Jong-un, who has limited leadership experience and credentials, to believe that a China-style economic reform holds the key to helping the North survive the tough years to come after he takes power.”

The defector predicted that the young leader would understand that reform is the only way to rally support from the people.

He dismissed the speculation that a military coup or riots might occur in the North during the power transition period, calling it “a very South Korean way of thinking.”

“The military won’t try such a futile attempt, because they know that doing so would only destroy them and their families. They would back Jong-un, not because they like him but because they know doing so will ensure their survival,” he said.

Kim, with his wife, fled the North in 2002 when he was serving as the head of the North Korea-Czech Republic joint venture company manufacturing shoes in the Eastern European country.

The Czech Republic was one of the foreign missions Kim was aligned with to manage the North’s hard currency projects abroad following previous postings in several Southeast Asian and European nations.

Kim’s wife, a graduate of Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies, is known to be the daughter of a powerful family in North Korea. She now teaches English at the English academy owned by her husband.

North Korean defectors here said those who demonstrated great academic performance and have strong networks with high-ranking officials are admitted to the university. Thus gaining admissions is even harder than entering the North’s Kim Il-sung University.

The couple arrived in Seoul in 2002, and is regarded as among the few, very successful defectors having achieved their Korean dream.

 

 

 

ifreeNK- JungjuHeo Journalist 

 

joungjoo@ifreenk.com

 

 

Source: Korea Times