WASHINGTON (AFP) - A North Korean defector on Wednesday (Nov 1) told the US Congress a domestic uprising could lead to the collapse of Kim Jong-Un's regime, as he warned against the consequences of military intervention.
Thae Yong-Ho, one of the highest ranking officials to have defected in recent years, was testifying before the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives at a time of soaring tensions between Pyongyang and the West over the regime's nuclear and missile tests.
Much of his commentary focused on how his homeland had evolved since Kim came to power in 2011 following the death of his father Kim Jong-Il.
"While on the surface Kim Jong-Un seems to have consolidated his power through this reign of terror, simultaneously there are great and unexpected changes taking place within North Korea," said the former deputy ambassador to Britain, who fled to South Korea in August 2016.
"The free markets are flourishing," he said, adding: "As more and more people get used to free and capitalist style markets, the state-owned socialist economic system becomes increasingly forgotten about."
Thae added that the country's welfare system has collapsed, and that "millions of civil servants, army officers and security forces are dependent on bribes and state assets' embezzlement for their survival."
North Koreans "don't care about state propaganda but increasingly watch illegally imported South Korean movies and dramas," weakening the regime's hold.
"These changes... make it increasingly possible to think about civilian uprising in North Korea as more and more people gradually become informed about the reality of their living conditions," Thae argued.
"Today, Kim Jong-Un thinks that only nuclear weapons and ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) can help him avert the continuing disintegration of the North Korea system," he added.
While arguing for more counter-narrative efforts inside North Korea, Thae cautioned against military conflict.
President Donald Trump and Kim have traded threats of war and personal insults against each other in recent months, heightening worries about another conflict on the peninsula where the 1950-53 Korean War left millions dead.
"Some people do not believe in soft power but only in military options," said Thae.
"But it is necessary to reconsider whether we have tried all non-military options before we decide that military action against North Korea is all that is left.
"We have to see the human sacrifice from this military option."