Hwang Jang Yop blames himself for suffering of friends, family left behind
WASHINGTON — ; The highest-ranking North Korean official yet to defect told Radio Free Asia (RFA) Monday he believes other defectors will play a key role in undermining the Pyongyang regime. In an interview with RFA's Korean service in Washington, Hwang Jang Yop also said he blamed himself for the suffering of relatives and colleagues he left behind.
"Defectors have experienced both sides of ideology...They lived under unimaginable tyranny and are living in democratic South Korea. They know what it is to be completely denied human rights by the government, and on the other hand they have also experienced democracy," said Hwang, 80, who served as North Korea's chief ideologue until he defected to South Korea in 1997. "That is why I believe North Korean defectors are remarkably valuable assets to bridge rifts between the two Koreas. They have networked in North and South Korea. They will be invaluable to the collapse of Kim Jong Il's regime and to the reunification of the Korean Peninsula."
"The North Korean dictatorship is harsher and more dictatorial than any other system in human history. Compared with Romania, it is perhaps 10 times worse, and in such a place a military coup seems impossible," Hwang said. "But if conditions are ripe, the military could be the first to rise up."
"For many [young soldiers], conscription lasts 13 years — ; for 13 years they practiced dying for [their leader], and then many of them were sent to mining, and their young lives were ruined...Dictators control the upper levels of the military, but the bottom levels could rise up — ; and when the structure begins trembling, the soldiers won't be controlled and the whole can collapse easily."
Hwang spent 40 years rising through the ranks of the North Korean government, becoming president of Kim Il Sung University and secretary of the ruling Korean Workers' Party. In 1997, he defected to Seoul--leaving his family behind. His wife and one daughter are believed to have committed suicide, while his son, another daughter, and his granddaughters are believed to be in slave labor camps.
Hwang also called for the creation in China of well-organized refugee camps to meet the basic needs of the thousands of North Koreans fleeing across the border. Human rights groups say up to 300,000 North Koreans may be living secretly in China now, hiding from Chinese authorities who routinely send North Koreans back to severe punishment at home.
"The increasing number of North Korean defectors is a sure sign of the weakening North Korean regime," he said. "Resolving it in an appropriate manner will have strategic significance for North Korea's democratization. If North Korean refugee camps can be equipped with the very environment that will nurture their understanding of and adaptation to democracy, defectors in the camp will be able to lead the fight to free suffering North Koreans — ; and that will be a strategic stronghold for North Korea's democratization."
"I think it will be harmful to the Chinese people if China maintains an alliance relationship with a notorious dictatorship such as North Korea. I like China, personally, and it could have some other reason for not severing ties with North Korea — ; but I believe this is a loss for China," he said.
Asked if he wanted to send a message back to North Korea, Hwang said, "I have forsaken all of my family. I have all along suffered from feelings of guilt, and I should be blamed for leaving those comrades who followed me. It was all my fault. When I left North Korea, I thought the North would collapse within five years, but I misjudged...Because of this misjudgment, I have lost face with my friends and comrades."
Hwang, who has spent six years under tight and secluded security in Seoul, was in Washington to brief U.S. officials on North Korea. He was scheduled to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and meet with administration officials.