Son of Most Famous Defectors to the North Has Defected

Choe In-guk reportedly arrived in Pyongyang on Saturday
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 8, 2019 12:54 PM CDT
South Korean Man Says He Defected to the North
In this image made from video taken on Saturday, July 6, 2019, by North Korean Uriminzokkiri state-run website, shows the son of the highest-profile South Korean ever to defect to North Korea, Choe In-guk giving a statement to media as he arrived in the North to permanently resettle.   (Uriminzokkiri via AP)

A defection on the Korean Peninsula is grabbing headlines, except in this case, it's a South-to-North move. Choe In-guk of South Korea arrived in Pyongyang on Saturday, per North Korean state media, and says he plans to live there permanently. Though the move is a highly rare one, it's not without precedent: Choe's own parents defected to the North in 1986 in what the BBC calls the highest-profile detection to occur since the Korean War ended; Choe's father was at one time foreign minister of South Korea. The state-run site Uriminzokkiri says Choe made the move—"albeit belatedly," he says—to honor the wishes of his now-deceased parents, who wanted him to join them in the North and push for reunification from there. Choe's parents are said to be buried in Pyongyang's Patriotic Martyrs cemetery.

The South Korea's Unification Ministry confirmed that Choe, said to be 72 or 73, did not go to the government to get the needed permission to travel to the North, though the AP reports he had received such authorization a dozen times since 2001. To go without Seoul's OK is punishable by up to 10 years in the South. It's possible he got there via China, something that would be "fairly simple" for him to do if he had "the regime's blessing," says a North Korea expert. The Guardian reports it's thought he did indeed have a visa issued by North Korea, and calls it a "minor propaganda coup," as Pyongyang could hold up the defection as illustrative of how life must currently be better in the North. The BBC notes that South-to-North defections were common before extreme famine hit the North in the 1990s. (The AP has more on Choe's parents here.)

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