I had the pleasure of moderating an online event with Hyun-Seung and Seo-Hyun yesterday, sponsored by the Harvard Kennedy School’s North Korea Study Group. This is part of a monthly conversation series with North Korean escapees I will moderate. Not sure if all of them will be recorded, but this one was, so be sure to check it out on this link! [The intro and Q&A were not recorded, thus the abrupt beginning and end]
Hyun-Seung and Seohyun Lee are the children of Ri Jong-Ho. He is the highest ranking living escapee who, before his escape, worked at Office 39 – a secretive North Korean party organization that seeks ways to maintain the foreign currency slush fund for the country’s leaders.
Hyun-Seung Lee is a former Deputy General Manager of the Korea Miyang Shipping Corporation (business entity of the DPRK regime), who graduated from China Dongbei University of Finance and Economics, where he was the chairman of the Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League, Dalian China branch. After completing his military service in 2005 with the rank of Sergeant, he was granted membership in the Korean Workers Party. Despite his prestigious background and elite-level education, a series of brutal purges by Kim Jong Un forced him and his entire family to defect in late 2014, making their way first to South Korea. Subsequently the entire family emigrated to the United States (2016) where Hyun-Seung has been engaged with several Washington DC think tanks and NGOs in consulting roles.
Seohyun Lee was born and raised in central Pyongyang, North Korea. She went to China to study when she was a sophomore at Kim Il Sung University and earned her bachelor’s degree of Science in Finance from Dongbei University of Economics and Finance in 2014. She defected from North Korea in October 2014 during a heightened period of brutal purges by the Kim Jong Un regime. With her long-term vision to build a liberal democratic system and bring freedom in North Korea, she is currently pursuing further graduate studies.
We talked about their personal lives as students in North Korea, what media they watched inside North Korea, their thoughts on whether or not the North Korean regime will ever denuclearize, and what their future plans are in the United States. Watch the video below for more! And be sure to follow them on their fascinating Youtube channel: Pyonghattan