Questioning North Korea’s Narrative of the London Diplomat Defection

It took about three days for the North Korean state to put together the opening salvo to its official public response to the stunning defection of Thae Yong-ho from its Embassy in London, but it has now arrived.

As I predicted in a Bloomberg interview on 17 August, the response has been quite nasty.

There are several other aspects to the response that bear noting, and which give us more information than we have previously, since neither the Republic of Korea nor the United Kingdom are being forthcoming about how precisely this transaction or conversion transpired. While the North Korean response is strange and flawed in several ways, it still gives us a few possibly significant data points which we didn’t have before, I think.

Since my time is limited, I’ve done a translation of the official Chinese version of the text, which at least tends to be a far more faithful rendering of the Korean than the English. Changes I’ve made are indicated in bold, and of course the original Korean is there for any reader to get active in the comments about what I’ve missed or delicious phrases which need further explanation, which I would of course encourage you to do.

My annotations between paragraphs are simply a first draft of analysis, or one way that the dispatch can be read. I should add that my writing stems from disappointment with the AP dispatch from Seoul as well as the non-James Pearson Reuters dispatch covering this same document, which essentially gave the North Koreans precisely the headline they wanted (“Defector is a Human Scum/Rapist” etc.) without any outside analysis, such as was provided by NK News, which has been covering this story in depth – and unlike the Chinese media, which has been muzzled. But that last-mentioned is another story, and another essay, altogether.

At any rate, there is much to discuss. With apologies for the odd line-spacing, which I shall blame on my not having stripped out ever last macro of KCNA code, let us begin.

KCNA Commentary Accuses S. Korean Regime of Orchestrating Fresh Smear Campaign against Its Compatriots / 동족대결[同族对决]의 새로운 모략극 [谋略剧], Pyongyang, August 20 (KCNA) —

The south Korean puppet regime is daily becoming more severe [日趋严重] with its anti-DPRK  propaganda campaign and confrontation. Of late, the Park Geun Hye group of traitors in south Korea carried out a contemptible cheap trick [卑鄙的把戏] of an operation to bring to south Korea a diplomat working in the DPRK Embassy who fled his mission and betrayed his country in London with his family for fear of legal punishment for his crimes. [ 남조선괴뢰들의 반공화국모략선전과 동족대결책동이 계속되고있다. 최 근 박근혜역적패당은 영국주재 대표부에서 일하다가 자기가 저지른 범죄행위가 폭로되자 그에 대한 법적처벌이 두려워 가족과 함께 도주한자를 남조선에 끌어들이는 비렬한 놀음을 벌려놓았다.]

Korean readers do not appear to be aware from this piece that Thae defected with his family; quite the opposite impression is given.
He was instructed to return home in June last to undergo investigation [进行调查] as regards the embezzlement of huge amount of state funds, leakage of state secrets for money and rape of a minor. 도 주자는 많은 국가자금을 횡령하고 국가비밀을 팔아먹었으며 미성년강간범죄까지 감행한것으로 하여 그에 대한 범죄수사를 위해 지난 6월에 이미 소환지시를 받은 상태에 있었다.
The DPRK claims that investigation of Thae only began in June — how interesting that a pattern of years is not asserted. This is not going to be a Jang Song-taek style throwing of him under the bus for all manner of evils or errors. Ambassador Hyon, and the Foreign Ministry as a whole, particularly the new Foreign Minister who used to supervise Thae directly in London, didn’t have a clue until June, in this narrative.
After the Central Public Prosecutors Office of the DPRK [공화국 중앙검찰소/中央检察所] learned of evidence of his crimes it issued a legal document on starting the investigation of his wilful leaking of state secrets, illegal embezzlement of state property, and sexual intercourse with a minor on July 12 공 화국 중앙검찰소에서는 이자의 범죄자료를 료해하고 7월 12일 놈이 감행한 고의적비밀루설죄,국가재산횡령범죄,미성년성교범죄에 대한 수사시작결정서를 발급하였다.
So in this narrative, the North Korean Foreign Ministry has no internal procedure and the Embassy itself can only wait for a court in Pyongyang to take 2-3 weeks — at the fastest! in a country which can put together a court case, conviction, and death sentence for Jang Song-taek in 48 hours!– to issue a single document which will start an investigation. In reality, although later the point is made more vaguely, this would appear be the point at which some excuse is given to the UK government that Thae is under investigation and needs to be extradited — a note likely generated and certainly provided after his disappearance, obviously. Some documentation needs to be given to the Foreign Office to that effect, so it seems likely that this document actually exists and was conveyed to Whitehall.
 He deserved a legal punishment for his crimes, but he protected his dog’s life [为保住自己的狗命], not hesitating to abandon and betray his country and parents and other kith and kin. He thus revealed himself as human scum bereft of elementary sense of moral obligation and conscience. [놈 은 마땅히 자기가 범한 범죄에 대한 법적처벌을 받아야 하겠으나 자기를 키워주고 내세워준 조국과 부모형제들마저 버리고 저 혼자 살겠다고 도주함으로써 인간으로서 갖추어야 할 초보적인 의리도 티끌만한 량심도 도덕도 없는 인간쓰레기라는것을 스스로 드러내보였다.]
This family reference is perhaps standard but it might portend the trotting out of his family members before the cameras later, although if they are indeed as high ranking as they are said to be, then the embarrassment might be spared.
 As already reported, the south Korean puppet regime committed such a hideous terrorism as kidnapping innocent citizens of the DPRK in daylight and taking them to south Korea. Not content with this, it is using the above-said bete noire for the anti-DPRK smear campaign and confrontation in a sinister bid to tarnish the DPRK’s international prestige at any cost and divert elsewhere the south Korean public criticism of its unpopular rule. [ 그럼에도 불구하고 괴뢰패당은 우리 공화국의 대외적영상을 어떻게하나 깎아내리고 저들의 반인민적통치에 격노한 남조선민심을 딴데로 돌릴 흉심밑에 적수공권의 우리 공민들을 백주에 랍치하여 남조선에 끌어가는 전대미문의 특대형테로행위를 감행하다 못해 이번에는 일고의 가치도 없는 인간쓰레기까지 끌어들여 반공화국모략선전과 동족대결에 써먹고있다.]
For the domestic audience Thae is essentially a waitress, except he has embezzled more cash. Same story of ROK agency plus immorality. The only difference China as host country got no complaints from DPRK in public for facilitating the defection.
 More ridiculous still is that the south Korean puppet group is cudgeling their brains to help the human scum improve his status by falsely claiming that he was in charge of the party work at his mission and he was a son of an anti-Japanese revolutionary fighter and the like. [궁색하기 그지없는것은 남조선괴뢰들이 도주자가 대표부에서 당사업을 하였다느니,항일투사의 아들이라느니 하는 등 터무니없는 거짓말을 늘어놓으면서 일고의 가치도 없는 도주자의 더러운 몸값을 조금이라도 올려보려고 무진애를 쓰고있는것이다. ]
 Thae’s revolutionary heritage is more corrosive than many things if known domestically, so the regime gets out front in denying before the rumour spreads.
Flies naturally congregate on a heap of stinking trash. [쉬파리만 모이는 오물장에서는 구린내밖에 날것이 없다].
  The already tattered anti-DPRK smear campaign kicked off by the Park Geun Hye regime with criminals and human scum involved, taken aback by the ever-rising prestige of the DPRK, would only throw it into a bottomless quagmire. 갈수록 높아가는 우리 공화국의 위상에 기가 질린 박근혜패당이 범죄자,인간오물들까지 동원하여 다 거덜이 난 반공화국모략선전에 미쳐날뛸수록 저들의 궁해빠진 처지만 적라라하게 드러낼뿐이다.
Standard intimidation and assertions of greatness, nothing to see here.
What cannot be overlooked amid this incident is that the British authorities, who paint their country as a law-governed state, handed him to the bloodshot eyes south Korean puppet regime hell-bent on confrontation with the fellow countrymen in the DPRK in disregard of its legitimate demand for sending back the criminal and the international practice on his extradition. From the outset of the incident the DPRK had informed the UK of what he committed and asked for his extradition for investigation. [이번 사건에서 엄중시하지 않을수 없는것은 소위 법치를 제창하는 영국당국이 범죄자를 넘겨줄데 대한 우리의 정당한 요구와 범죄자인도와 관련한 국제관례를 무시하고 범죄자를 동족대결에 피눈이 되여 날뛰는 남조선괴뢰들에게 넘겨준것이다. 우리는 사건발생초기부터 영국측에 도주자가 감행한 범죄행위들에 대하여 알려주고 조사를 위하여 범죄자를 넘겨줄것을 요구하였다.]
June or July? Again only Whitehall knows for sure. I bet on later. That it “cannot be overlooked” means DPRK is mad but does not appear to have much info on how Thae actually got out of the country or the ROK-UK linkage to get that done.
However, the UK handed over the fugitive and his family carrying no passports to the south Korean puppet forces, contrary to its duty to protect the foreign diplomats in its country, thereby besmirching its image as a law-governed state. 그러나 영국측은 자기 나라 주재 외교관들을 보호해야 할 의무를 스스로 저버리고 려권도 없는 도주자들을 남조선괴뢰들에게 고스란히 넘겨줌으로써 법치국으로 자처하는 영국의 영상을 스스로 더럽혔다.
This is a fascinating admission. Even Thae has to cede his passport to a State Security or whomever at the Embassy, presumably they still have it locked up somewhere! It seems somehow natural here that they don’t have even a fig leaf here explaining they took it from him at outset of their ‘investigation’. Incidentally the same obliviousness to even the pretext of freedom of movement (akin to China’s withholding of travel documents for Tibetans) was evident in very well coached interviews with waitresses from Ningbo who did not defect; they explained to CNN’s Will Ripley that they did not have their own passports while in China.
 By participating in the criminal’s activity and aiding the anti-DPRK plot of the south Chosun puppet group the UK left an indelible blot. Such an act against elementary good faith perpetrated by the UK would only further deteriorate the complicated north-south relations and it would not do the UK good either. [  영국은 범죄자를 빼돌림으로써 범죄행위에 가담하고 남조선괴뢰들의 동족대결을 부추기는 지울수 없는 오점을 남기였다. 초보적인 신의마저 저버린 영국의 행위는 가뜩이나 복잡한 북남관계를 더욱 악화시키는 결과만을 초래할것이며 그렇게되면 영국에도 결코 리로울것이 없을것이다.]
The original English version of KCNA uses the term”Whisking off” to describe British work with Thae. Does this mean they put him on a plane at Heathrow? So many details left to learn.
One does get the feeling from this document that the North Koreans are not going to drive the relationship with HMG to rupture, in large part because they know that they did not have their own ducks in a row, having been outsmarted. By the same token, I would imagine London’s Ambassador in Pyongyang has been, and remains, in for a few hard days at the office. And it goes without saying that the same is true for Ambassador Hyun Hak-bong. There is surely discussion of a rethink going on in both capitols. Much is left to be determined.



  1. Most of the above is par for the course in such situations, but human scum. Crikey, that’s a bit rich not to mention a good giggle, when BBC reported this incident during my midnight to dawn hours. I suppose there is an upside in that Mr Thae was not called a jackal, a sort of canine reference much loved by Mafia types for its Darwinian view of the social contract.

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