Rep. Tae Yong-ho, who was a North Korean diplomat before he defected in 2016, on Thursday announced his bid to run for the Supreme Council member of the ruling People Power Party.
Speaking at a press conference, he said as someone who has known the North Korean regime from the inside, he believes he has a “historical responsibility” to put his experience to greater use.
“Sooner or later, North Korea’s regime will find itself in an existential crisis. If we are prepared, we could achieve unification. But if we aren’t, the whole of the Korean Peninsula could fall into a crisis,” he said.
“Someone who has the experience and insight has to be in a responsible position.”
Tae said his every move was being watched by Kim Jong-un and members of North Korea’s elite.
“I know that my winning a seat on the party’s Supreme Council would surprise them. They’d be surprised by the acceptance of South Korean politics, and it’s going to cause a stir among the elite,” he said.
In response to a reporter question, he said, “I’d imagine my run would alarm Kim Jong-un.”
“As a person who knows North Korea’s regime very well, including its weaknesses, if I become a member of the the Supreme Council of South Korea’s ruling party -- then yes, I think Kim Jong-un would find it alarming.”
Tae said the National Intelligence Service’s recent raid of a labor union office in an investigation into alleged spy activities was “just the intelligence authorities doing what they are supposed to do.”
“Some say the spy agency investigating is a red scare," said Tae, who worked at a research institute under the National Intelligence Service before entering politics. He added that such investigations of espionage or foreign interference have always been done under different administrations.
From January next year the NIS is set to lose its authority to investigate espionage-related cases under the law revised during the last Moon Jae-in administration. The revised law gives police that investigative authority.
Tae said this needed to be undone.
“Our police aren’t equipped or prepared to take on the kind of investigation that the intelligence agency has been doing,” he said.
“If our party regains majority in the next election, I think this law is going to be put on hold.”
He added he believed he was among those paving the two Koreas’ path to unification and new possibilities.
“I was elected a lawmaker four years after I defected from North Korea. As a first-time lawmaker, I have had the privilege of serving as the chair of the party’s international affairs committee and the foreign affairs and unification committee in the last three years,” he said.
“Now I hope to serve in a position that shoulders more responsibilities and I believe that my joining the leadership would signal a meaningful change for our party.”
Tae is the first North Korean defector to be an elected lawmaker in South Korean parliament. If he is elected at the convention on March 8, he would make history again as the first North Korean defector to hold a decision-making power in a major South Korean political party.