- North Korean defector Kim Young-il is the 39-year-old founder of People for Successful Corean Reunification (PSCORE). He escaped North Korea at 19 years old.
- Kim said President Donald Trump’s handling of the upcoming summit with North Korea in Singapore on June 12 shows that he understands dictator Kim Jong Un better than South Korean President Moon Jae-In does.
- But Kim believes that nothing will change as a result of the summit because Kim Jong Un and the North Korean government have too much to lose by making concessions and opening the country up economically.
President Donald Trump understands how to handle North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un better than his South Korean counterpart, President Moon Jae-in, but it’s unlikely anything significant will come of Tuesday’s summit in Singapore, according to North Korean defector Kim Young-il.
“From the way that Trump talks, it seems like he understands a lot more about North Korea than [South Korean president] Moon Jae-In,” Kim Young-il told Business Insider during a recent interview. “To me, it seems like Trump understands the characteristics of Kim Jong Un better in terms of how to deal with his personality.”
Kim Young-il, the 39-year-old founder of People for Successful Corean Reunification (PSCORE), escaped North Korea when he was 19 years old. PSCORE is a nonprofit that promotes reunification, raises awareness about human rights issues in North Korea, and helps defectors adjust to life in South Korea.
He said the back-and-forth over Tuesday’s summit — from the initial proposal to its abrupt cancellation last month to the race to save the talks — demonstrated that Trump understands how to cow North Korea’s leader. Kim specifically pointed to Trump’s willingness to pull out of the talks in response to aggressive language from members of the North Korean government.
In the weeks before Trump’s initial cancellation, the North Korean government threatened to cancel the summit over joint military exercises between the US and South Korea. In addition, North Korea’s vice minister of foreign affairs referred to comments made by Vice President Mike Pence as “stupid.”
“As a person involved in US affairs, I cannot suppress my surprise at such ignorant and stupid remarks gushing from the mouth of the US vice president,” Choe Son Hui said in a statement reported by North Korean state news.
“Whether the US will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision and behavior of the United States,” Choe added.
This defector thinks little will come of the summit because North Korea has too much to lose by negotiating
While Kim Young-il thinks Trump understands Kim Jong Un better than most, he isn’t optimistic that anything will come of Tuesday’s talks in Singapore. According to him, Kim Jong Un and his government have too much to lose by giving up nuclear weapons and opening up the country to trade.
“People think, ‘Okay, if one day they give up their weapons, another day they will change to a different style of government,” said Kim Young-il, whose organization helps defectors escape North Korea and China and assists them once they reach South Korea.
“But the North Korean government can’t do that. They can’t leave behind the North Korean system.”
The problem, he said — and why North Korea cannot make significant changes to the country — is that the government needs to keep the people starving to maintain power.
“When people become economically more advanced and have food to fill themselves, they begin to think of human rights and democracy. They start to have more desire for their own rights,” Kim Young-il said. “But the government wants to stop that from happening.”
According to him, many experts like to point to China as an example of a country successfully opening up and developing economically without much destabilization. But the key difference between China and North Korea is that China’s Communist Party was able to separate itself from crimes committed by previous iterations of the party by bringing in new generations of leaders like Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao.
North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is tied to his father and grandfather. If he and his cohort were to lose power, they would suffer severe consequences from the North Korean people and the international community, the defector said. That makes the stakes for maintaining power much higher.
“All the crimes that Kim Il Sung did and all the crimes that Kim Jong Il did, it all falls onto him. It’s a direct line,” Kim Young-il said. “He doesn’t have anything to escape to. He has to keep himself from facing these crimes.”