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From Diplomat to Defector 

Thae Yong-ho & Anna Fifield

Thae Yong-ho is one of the highest-ranking officials to defect from North Korea. What can he tell us about the secrets and lies of one of the world's most repressive regimes?

Hosted by Peter Hartcher. 

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Talks & Ideas | Antidote 

“There was no hope for this regime.”

Thae Yong-ho

The inner workings of a totalitarian state

In North Korea, Kim Jong-un's dictatorship ensures tight control. TVs and radios are tuned to state channels, leadership respond to threat by bloody purges, and hundreds of thousands of dissenters and their families are sent to labour and prison camps.

Thae Yong-Ho, once the deputy diplomat in North Korea's British embassy, defected to South Korea in 2016, making him a target for assassination. He joins us to give deep insight into his former life, from escorting dictator Kim Jong-un's brother to an Eric Clapton concert in London, to methods of finding food for a starving population. Yong-ho is joined by journalist Anna Fifield, who recently released her behind-the-scenes story of the rise and reign of Kim Jong-un, The Great Successor. This will be a brilliant opportunity to get the inside word on one of the world's most secretive and strange totalitarian states. 

More about the speakers...

Thae Yong-ho was North Korea's deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom when he defected with his family in 2016. He is now under the protection of South Korea, and surrounds himself with a team of bodyguards. In 2018 he published a memoir about his time as a diplomat. Since his defection, Yong-ho has given many talks and interviews about North Korea's secretive, authoritarian, and violent government, and writes regularly about reunification. In response, North Korea have called him "human scum".

Anna Fifield is the Beijing bureau chief for The Washington Post. She previously covered Japan and the Koreas for the Post, and was the Seoul correspondent for the Financial Times. She has reported from more than 20 countries and has visited North Korea a dozen times, becoming one of the most authoritative journalists on this impenetrable country. She was a Nieman journalism fellow at Harvard University, studying how change happens in closed societies. In 2018, she received the Shorenstein Journalism Award from Stanford University for her outstanding reporting on Asia.


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