My dear friend Jo Song-gil!
Song-gil, I have no way of contacting you directly, so I am posting a long letter to you on my blog that you used to read.
It has already been six years since we parted in Pyongyang.
From the day your family was reported to have been missing in Italy, the first thing our family does every morning is to search about your family online.
Whenever my children and my wife hear about you, they recall our family vacation to Rome in January 2008, when you guided my kids through St. Peter’s Cathedral in the Vatican and downtown Rome.
My children also say that they wish your family would come to Seoul.
However, I was surprised to read in this morning’s news that you’re seeking asylum in the United States.
I hope that the report is not true.
You and I both grew up in North Korea where we were given patriotism education since we were kids.
Looking back now, in the patriotism that we were taught, there was no future or prosperity of our people, but only the total bomb spirit (devotion) for the Kim family.
It wasn’t until I was in my 50s that I realized the true patriotism I had aspired for all my life was the love for Korea, and that my true home country was the Republic of Korea.
When I say our country is not the ‘Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’ but the Republic of Korea, you would probably not be able to readily agree with me.
Nonetheless, as people who have been educated all our lives to put the fate and prosperity of the people before that of our personal fate and happiness, we need to think carefully about on what path the true fate and prosperity of our people lies.
I had thought that I knew a lot about South Korea based on what I read on the internet while working at an embassy in a foreign country for a long time.
But when I actually came to South Korea, it was much more democratic and more economically developed than I had expected.
I am not trying to justify myself just because I came to Korea, but there is no other country in the world that has gone from being an underdeveloped colony to a country that achieved economic prosperity and democratization at the same time other than Korea.
Of course, Korea is not exactly heaven on earth.
But Korea is where you and I can achieve what we want to achieve.
You miss people the most when you leave North Korea.
When I came to Seoul, I found out that there are many alumni from Pyongyang Foreign Language Institute that we both attended.
We gather on holidays and talk about our days at the Institute.
There also are about 30,000 North Korean defectors in South Korea.
North Korean defectors are not usually as well off as South Koreans, but they still live life on their own terms.
Even last night, dozens of civil society leaders that are North Korean defectors gathered to have a heated discussion on how to advance reunification.
It is true that there also are ultra-left organizations such as the Baekdu Guard and Thae Yong-ho Arrest Unit, because free democracy allows expression of many different opinions, but there are only a few like them. There many more organizations that are truly committed to improving the fate and lives of North Korean people and bringing peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula.
Millions of young Koreans are devoting their lives to bringing reunification and are dreaming about unification.
I myself am also running the ‘Together for Unification Academy’ where university students from North and South Korea decent all come to discuss issues related in preparation for reunification.
On December 29th, university students from South and North Korea went to Konjiam Ski Resort together and had a good time skiing.
In short, Seoul is the basecamp for the unification of the Korean Peninsula.
As North Korean diplomats, what you and I should do for the rest of our lives is to unify the country and hand over the unified nation to our children’s generation.
Let’s work together in Seoul to break down the North’s power structure and unify this country.
You don’t have to worry about your safety if you should come to South Korea.
Several bodyguards keep a close watch every day to protect me.
I sometimes feel sorry that my security might be costing too much tax money.
When you come to Korea, the government will guarantee your complete safety.
You will be able to get a job where you want as well.
I was offered a position at the National Security Strategy Agency which guaranteed a comfortable life, but I left of the agency on my own accord because I wanted to work more freely for unification. If I had kept on working there, I wouldn’t have had a problem making a living.
It is also better to be in Korea for the sake of your children’s education.
Children of North Korean defectors are not financially burdened by college tuition because the government pays for all of it.
The state also offers rental housing and resettlement funds to assist North Korean defectors until they are able to settle down.
In your case, you would be able to send your children to prestigious universities in South Korea and then send them to masters programs abroad in the US.
You and your wife should come to Korea and enroll in a master’s course.
My entire family is attending university at the moment.
My children are both university students in highly noted schools, and my wife and I are also attending graduate courses at top ranked universities.
Going to a university in South Korea is completely different from when we were in North Korea.
My wife had planned to open a bakery to support our family when we came to Korea.
So she graduated baking and barista academies and passed all of the license exams.
We decided postpone the plan to open a bakery till we are in our 60s. Instead, my wife and I work at non-governmental unification organizations during the day, and study in the graduate program at night.
I will be graduating from a two-year master’s degree program by the end of this year.
Writing my master’s thesis is giving me a headache.
During the week, I give lectures, have unification academies with North and South Korean university students, and on the weekends go to school to study. The weeks just fly by.
My book, ‘Cryptography From the Third-Floor Secretariat’, sold more than 150,000 copies and has been continuously on the 5th to 6th place range among the political and social book section for more than 6 months.
This reflects how much Korea wishes for unification.
If you come to Korea and write an autobiography, it will also be a big hit.
In fact, our family is all so very busy during the week, we’re practically like separated families.
The Constitution of Republic of Korea states that ‘the territory of Korea consists of the Korean Peninsula and its annexed islands’.
This means that North Korean people are Korean as well.
It is not too late to come to Korea even if you already asked for asylum in the US.
Proudly tell the Italian authorities that “I am a citizen of Republic of Korea according to the Constitution of Republic of Korea, and I will go to my homeland, Korea!”
No one can stop you from doing that.
For people like us who are North Korean diplomats and members of the Korean nation, coming to South Korea is not an option but a duty.
If you come to South Korea, freeing suffering North Korean people and our colleagues from the yoke of tyranny will be advanced that much sooner.
If you come to Seoul, more of our colleagues will follow suit, and unification will happen naturally.
I will be waiting for you here in Seoul!
I’m sorry to send you such a long mundane letter when you must be spending anxiety filled days.
Looking forward to the day of our reunion,
January 5th, 2019