|Chung Ok-nim By Park Sang-moon|
The second head of the three-year-old organization under the Ministry of Unification, which helps settle North Korean defectors in the South, said in an interview with Korea JoongAng Daily on Dec. 19 that the South Korean government should be prepared for a possible flood of North Koreans escaping to the South, including some members of the elite surrounding Jang and his nephew, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
“The instability of Kim Jong-un’s rule could lead to a sudden political upheaval or an unnecessary provocation against South Korea,” Chung said. “So far, most of the people escaping North Korea were ordinary people, but if several members of the power elite begin seeking asylum, it could trigger an exodus.
“In that case, we should be prepared to settle a flood of defectors based on the know-how we have learned so far,” she said.
Whether South Korea could actually handle such an exodus is an open question, she said.
“An average of 1,500 to 1,800 North Koreans come to the South annually,” she said, “and we have a total of about 26,000 defectors. But there are 25 million people in North Korean territory. We should ask ourselves whether the current settlement system would still function in an emergency and whether we could accommodate such a surge of defectors or not.”
The 53-year-old former Saenuri Party lawmaker is also a specialist in North Korean affairs with experience as a visiting scholar to the Hoover Institute at the Stanford University. She worked as a member of the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee, where lawmakers could access information by the top spy agency about North Korea. In 2012, she was selected as a spokeswoman for President Park Geun-hye’s presidential campaign.
Chung was appointed president of the foundation in November, which has an annual budget of 26 billion won ($24.6 million) to help North Korean defectors settle in the South.
Asked if a rebellion or revolution of the masses was possible in North Korea, Chung answered cautiously.
“Although I am unable to say ‘never,’ the possibility of a rebellion from the bottom would be quite low,” she said. “Possibly, the inner-circle elite could plot a rebellion, but we can’t imagine a second Jasmine Revolution in North Korea at the moment.” (The Jasmine Revolution was the anti-autocracy rebellion in Tunisia that started the Arab Spring of democracy movements.)
“People can’t express their complaints about Kim Jong-un for fear of being executed, but there have to have been big changes in the country,” she said. “But in order for the regime to collapse, we need more factors.”