The N. Korean Defector Flying Propaganda Balloons To Topple Kim

Park Sang-hak, a North Korean defector, sees his propaganda balloons as a form of psychological warfare. He plans to continue doing so until Kim Jong Un’s dictatorship falls.

Park, the son of a North Korean double agent who fled his country in 1999, has been delivering balloons stuffed with anti-regime propaganda leaflets, US dollar bills, and K-pop USB drives across the border for nearly two decades.

His objective is to “enlighten the North Korean public,” but the 56-year-old has recently gained attention when Pyongyang singled him out as “scum” and released over 1,000 balloons carrying rubbish into South Korea in retribution.

Another wave of trash-filled balloons caused a three-hour suspension to flights into and out of Seoul’s Incheon airport early Wednesday morning.

This is a “unacceptable” violation of the game’s rules, Park told AFP, adding that neither side had ever sent waste across the border during the decades of leaflet warfare between the two Koreas.

“Kim Jong Un stands out as the first person ordering balloons of trash,” he said, labeling it a “despicable and atrocious act” and demanding an apology from Kim.

Park has firsthand knowledge of the effectiveness of a propaganda leaflet.

He recalls finding a pamphlet decades ago in the North that claimed to show two successful defectors in the South.

“One picture shows this defector with pretty South Korean women in swimming suits, with the text saying he had received 100 million won in government aid,” Park said.

It changed Park’s life, showing him that defection was not only for elite diplomats or border soldiers, but was possible for anyone who dared to cross the river into China.

‘Important information’

“It was the most important information for me,” he told AFP.

A few years later, he, his mother and two siblings crossed the river themselves.

The leaflet seen by Park was made by the South Korean government. He later met one of the defectors in the photograph and asked him whether it was real.

“He told me it was staged by Seoul’s National Intelligence Service,” Park said.

Seoul and Pyongyang used to print their own propaganda leaflets and broadcast loudspeaker messages along the border. South Korea created radio broadcasts particularly to be broadcast into the North.

However, the two countries suspended their duelling campaigns in 2003, during a period of improved relations, prompting Park to launch his own initiatives.

Park launched his first balloon northwards in 2006.

He began by using balloons purchased from a play store, but after some trial and error, he refined his technique.

He now claims to be able to launch fully packed balloons weighing seven or eight kilograms (15 or 18 pounds) “with my eyes closed,” but he has declined to publish details of his launches for operational security considerations.

The balloons contain special waterproof pamphlets meant to safely carry a single dollar note, which Park believes is a critical component of his campaign’s success.

North Koreans learn that dollar bills are falling from the sky, he claimed, pushing them to locate and unwrap the balloons’ packages when they see them. This leads people to read the leaflets.

One of the missives, all written by Park and his team, describes the 2017 execution of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother Kim Jong Nam at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, including a photo of his falling body.

‘Deliver truth’ 

Pyongyang’s reaction to his balloons proves they have an impact on the North Korean public, Park said.

It is hard to imagine how little information the North’s 26 million people have access to, Park said, with the internet and media controlled by the regime.

This is why the leaflets matter and why they work, he said.

“I have received calls from around 800 defectors thanking me for my mission, telling me that they had seen my leaflets in the North,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t stop his campaign.

His critics claim his actions risk escalating the tense security situation between the two Koreas, which remain technically at war since the 1950 to 1953 conflict ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

But Park dismisses the accusations, saying his campaign is peaceful: “While Kim is firing missiles non-stop, our message is to stop such violence.”

His ultimate aim is for the Kim regime to fall, which he hopes can happen due to domestic change, not an outside intervention.

“These leaflets will deliver truth to the North Korean people, who will then use them to rise up against the Kim regime and topple it,” he said.

“My leaflets are of truth, money and love.”

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