1) For our listeners who haven’t got a chance to watch the recent interview, what do we know about this teenage member of North Korea’s dictatorial clan?
We know very little. But what we do know is that Kim Han-sol (김한솔) is a 17-year old student, attending United World College (UWC, a British-based educational foundation), who spent most of his young life outside of North Korea, primarily in Macau for much of his primary years, and now in Serbia-Herzegovina to attend UWC.
2) He seems to be surprisingly comfortable talking about North Korea and his family. What are some striking features about him in both appearance and speech ? And how is he so much at ease to discuss about his background or Pyongyang (평양)?
We know, based on his recent interview on Finnish TV, among other sources, that he looks like any other normal person his age. He spoke fluent English during his recent interview, and during the interview, appeared relatively media savvy. He seemed exceptionally poised, perhaps arguably overly poised, for a young adult his age in which it was meant to be believed that he was speaking “off the cuff.” But we at the Asia-Pacific Global Research Group believe that this interview–which is basically a coming out event for Kim Han-sol (김한솔)–is not off the cuff, but rather, the finished product of a much-prepared and highly calibrated event. An event like this, even outside of the DPRK, would normally not occur without prior knowledge and maybe even approval from the highest levels in the DPRK. Interestingly, Kim Han-sol’s visual appearance also varies. In his recent Finnish TV interview, he appears like a stately young gentleman. In contrast, in social media, such as seen in his Facebook account, we see pictures of him with bright blond hair and earrings.
3) What does his enrollment at an institution like UWC imply considering North Korea often clashes with UN values of philanthropy and its humanitarian efforts?
We at the Asia-Pacific Global Research Group believe that attending the UWC, rather than say another school inside or outside the DPRK, may have been a strategic decision by his father (Kim Jung-nam, 김정남) to make his son, and thus himself and the DPRK, appear more approachable and reasonable to the eyes of the international community. Consider that the stated UWC mission is to “makes education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future,” which would make Kim Han-sol, and the DPRK, appear almost like a reasonable state. This could help in swaying the international community and the court of world opinion. The interview may also have served as a “coming out” event for Kim Han-sol as a possible future offshore informal spokesperson for the DPRK–a country viewed as a constant enigma, and impossible to decipher due to its tightly closed nature.
4) Do you think the interview with Kim Han-sol (김한솔) that was open to global viewership, represents a crack in the North Korean leadership or possibly Kim Jong-nam’s (eldest son to the late Kim Jong-il) (김정남) efforts to grab international attention for whatever personal reason?
If it’s a crack, we believe it was a coordinated crack in communication. From the eyes of the DPRK leadership, another “international” DPRK figure–who much like Kim Jung-un (김정은), is young, raised overseas, and bi-/multi-lingual–may provide another PR avenue opportunity for the DPRK leadership to appear more civil and reasonable–which may or may not be the case–in an era where media and global communication is becoming increasingly pivotal. Viewed externally beyond the DPRK leadership and its borders, Kim Han-sol’s relatively normal, well-dressed, composed, and fairly articulate interview may serve as a sort of “alter ego” to Kim Jung-un to sway some in the international community to view the DPRK and its leadership in a more favorable and approachable light.
5) In light of the December presidential race here in Korea and the US presidential election soon to come, how do you think this will impact some of the candidate’s diplomatic policy towards North Korea or regarding efforts to push for Korean unification?
In short, the interview will have a nominal impact, on the US presidential elections since both Obama and Romney have declared their positions on North Korea (which are surprisingly similar). But in the South Korean presidential elections, the multiple references to peace and a unified Korean peninsula during Kim Han-sol’s relatively short recent interview has made media headlines here in South Korea, which may have some political sway among the watching general electorate. The interview may also be a purposeful strategy to further boost the liberal candidates’ chances of being elected into the Blue House. Having either Ahn or Moon in the Blue House, rather than Park Geun-hye, would be the strong presidential preference by the DPRK. This is because, inter alia, either Ahn or Moon as the Korean president may very well translate into more economic and non-economic aid to the North, and perhaps an attempt towards a Sunshine Policy 2.0.
6) How will North Korea go about dealing with censoring or blocking itself from so-called foreign influence when its becoming harder to control information flow?
This is a complex topic in and of itself. In short, we believe that it is an issue of “when” not “if” in terms of when the “Great Communication Wall” of the DPRK will crack and then suddenly and unexpectedly break the dam that is the DPRK leadership’s stronghold. This was the case with the USSR, a larger Stalinist state than the DPRK earlier, a state which the DPRK patterned itself politically, in part. And this was also the case when the Berlin Wall, cracked and collapsed, to suddenly and unexpectedly unify East and West Germany.* (In Germany’s case, East Germany’s GDP was about 30-40 percent of West Germany’s–unlike in the Korean Peninsula, in which North Korea’s GDP is roughly 5 percent or less that of South Korea’s GDP).
The Youtube clip of Kim Han-sol’s interview on Finnish TV (in English) is below:
Kim Han-sol Interview – Part 1 (from 2:00 minute mark onwards):
Kim Han-sol Interview – Part 2