Kim Jong PHOTO

North Korea’s economy may not survive another year, defector says

North Korea is so weak its economy might not last long under tough United Nations sanctions, a high-ranking defector said Monday in his first public speaking engagement in the U.S.

The former insider’s view of dictator Kim Jong Un’s oppressive regime comes just as North Korea’s deputy U.N. ambassador stepped up the tough talk. “Nuclear war may break out any moment,” Kim In Ryong said Monday.

But North Korea may just be bluffing.

“I don’t know if North Korea will survive a year [under] sanctions. Many people will die,” said Ri Jong Ho, a former senior North Korean economic official. He was speaking through a translator at the Asia Society in New York.

“There is not enough to eat there” and the sanctions have “completely blocked” trade, he said, forcing the government to send tens of thousands of laborers overseas. Ordinary North Korean households have no electricity, he added, while the capital city only gets three to four hours a day.

Ri was last posted in Dalian, China, where he helped run Office 39, a secret organization responsible for obtaining cash for the ruling Kim family. Ri also won the highest civilian honor in the dictatorship. But after a series of purges, he defected with his family in late 2014 and now lives in the greater Washington, D.C. area.

The defector painted his birth country as one in dire straits. China, North Korea’s largest trade partner, is “very upset” with the rogue state for not reforming its economy and instead “begging” its giant neighbor for food, Ri said. On the other hand, Ri said, North Korean leaders met with Russian President Vladimir Putin but diplomacy “was not as easy as it might have been thought.”

Kim is also offended that he has never met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Xi also once chose to visit the southern part of the peninsula before the north.

During a 2014 meeting with North Korean officials, Kim Jong Un called Xi a “son of a b—-” and the Chinese “sons of b——,” Ri said, adding that there is fear China will “betray” North Korea.

As a result, building a relationship with the United States is the rogue state’s primary focus.

Ri likened Kim’s war of words with President Donald Trump to a “child and adult dispute.”

The dictator thinks help from the U.S. will enable him to solidify his leadership, just as North Koreans generally think alliance with the U.S. helped South Korea prosper, Ri said. “North Korea is very fearful of South Korea.”

To address its insecurities, North Korea fires missile after missile. Invariably, the world worries about the pariah state’s growing nuclear threat and China repeatedly calls for dialogue. Ri, however, said he sees the solution as more than simply gathering together for talks.

When negotiating, the parties need to know what they want, which is far from the case here due to lack of understanding on both sides, Ri said. In order to successfully turn the situation around, foreign diplomats need to understand what is in Kim Jong Un’s head and “change what he thinks.”

Michael Hay PHOTO

North Korea’s only foreign-founded law firm suspends operations

North Korea’s first and only law firm set up by a foreigner, Hay, Kalb & Associates, will suspend operations, the firm’s principal said in a statement on Monday, as the country grows increasingly isolated.

The firm is a joint venture between the North Korean state and British-French citizen Michael Hay, who has represented foreign clients in the capital, Pyongyang, for 12 years.

Hay said he had made the decision based on “business and geopolitical principles”.

“This decision has been taken only after lengthy and thorough deliberation and an examination of the continuing deterioration of inter-regional relations pertaining to the Korean peninsula,” Hay said in a statement.

“It is not unreasonable to assume that no meaningful change or indicator of change in relations shall occur, if at all, until well after the United States Presidential Inauguration, on January 20, 2017,” Hay said in the statement.

North Korea has come under growing diplomatic pressure since its January nuclear test and a long-range rocket launch in February, which led to a new U.N. Security Council resolution in March that tightened sanctions against Pyongyang.

The majority of Hay’s clients are foreign investors, many of whom have been negatively affected by the sanctions, Hay told Advisory Excellence.

“Sanctions are hurting legitimate foreign investors. There still is no credible, consistent evidence I see of DPRK companies hurting,” Hay said. DPRK stands for Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official title.

Very few foreigners live or work in North Korea. Those who do are usually members of the diplomatic or NGO community, although a small group of foreign investors have maintained a quiet and steady presence inside the country.

The suspension takes effect from midnight on Monday, Hay said, with an official suspension scheduled for Aug. 14, the firm’s 12-year anniversary.

Hay, who bills his firm as the only foreign-invested firm in North Korea, said he will still maintain an office in Pyongyang.

North Korea has more than 8,000 law graduates, according to an official 2008 census, half of whom are based in Pyongyang. Most are employed by the state.