Magazine July 08, 2019, Issue

The Incredible Guts of Thae Yong-ho

Thae Yong-ho at the Oslo Freedom Forum, May 2019 (Jay Nordlinger)
An emissary from North Korea


People who manage to leave North Korea are often known as “defectors” — even when they are ordinary citizens, rather than government officials or military personnel. That’s because, when you are born in North Korea, you are deemed to belong to the state. If you leave, you have defected, and you are a traitor.

Thae Yong-ho is a defector in a more widely understood sense. He was North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom when he went over to the South Koreans in 2016. He is one of the highest-ranking North Korean officials ever to defect. He is something rare

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