North Korea's highest-ranking defector said Wednesday that "ideological warfare," not military action, would help topple the regime of Kim Jong Il.
"We don't need to resort to force," Hwang Jang-yop told a small audience at the Center for Strategic International Studies, a Washington-based thinktank. "We need to use ideology and markets and diplomacy. We need to take a lesson from the cold war."
Hwang, an 87 year-old former secretary of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party, was in Washington meeting with academics and policymakers on his second trip to Washington since defecting in 1997, during a trip to Beijing, China.
"Tell Kim Jong Il he doesn't qualify as a participant in the Six Party Talks," he said, referring to multilateral efforts aimed at persuading Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program."That's the only punch we could hit him with."
Hwang said that neither engagement nor attacking the regime would help bring about change in North Korea. Rather he said it was critical to educate North Koreans about human rights abuses taking place in their country.
"Simply trying to make Kim Jong Il die would not be the solution," he said. "The solution is ideological warfare. We need to focus on the people of North Korea and alert them to the human rights abuses that are taking place."
The former chief of North Korea's parliament - believed to have been a mentor to Kim Jong Il and a confident of his father, Kim Il Sung - is credited with developing the regime ideology "juche," or "self-reliance."
In an interview with CNN, Hwang said he defected after that ideology was "distorted" by Kim Jong Il and policies led to the famine of the 1990s, during which more than a million North Koreans died.
"I do love my people and my fatherland. I didn't have to look at the statistics to see how many people were dying," he said. "I realized I could not bring about change in North Korea.
Hwang is at the top if North Korea's hit list, living in Seoul, South Korea, under close police protection to guard against assassination attempts. His trip to Washington was kept under wraps, and a security detail guarded his movements.
"The Korean government has details looking out for me," he said about the security. But he added, "I do not fear Kim Jong Il."
Describing life in North Korea, he said, "Everybody are slaves, serfs ... People have been brainwashed and abused for so long they don't even know they are supposed to have rights."
Even of his own privileged life in North Korea, he said "we were highy ranked slaves. We still lived a life of servitude. We didn't have freedom." The North Korea military, he said, is "the only force who could say no" to the North Korean leader.
Hwang told CNN's Jill Dougherty he hoped his visit would promote better relations between the United States and South Korea. He stressed the stalled free-trade agreement between the U.S. and South Korea could solidify relations between Washington and Seoul, and thwart Pyongyang's efforts to weaken their alliance.Â
Still, he said, he didn't believe that Kim Jong Il harbored the vehement anti-American sentiment that has been the hallmark of his regime's public rhetoric.
"Deep down when he is talking in private with his henchmen, he never speaks ill about the United States," Hwang said.
He suggested that China, as North Korea's closest ally, should put more pressure on the Pyongyang. If China were to sever ties with the North, he said, it would be a "death penalty" for the regime."
"China is the lifeline of North Korea and I don't know why they aren't trying to bring about change," he said. "Through China we can change North Korea."
- From CNN's Elise Labott and Meghan Rafferty