North Korean defector Ji Seong-ho smiles during an interview at his office in Seoul, South Korea, Feb. 13, 2018. SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA —
The North Korean defector singled out by President Donald Trump as a living example of the North's atrocities said Tuesday that Trump had set a milestone in international efforts to improve North Korea's human rights situation when he invited him and other defectors to his office.
Trump invited Ji Seong-ho to sit in the gallery with the first lady during his State of the Union address last month. Legislators cheered as Trump introduced Ji, and the 35-year-old triumphantly waved the crutches he had used to escape North Korea after a train ran over his limbs.
Trump later invited the North Korean defectors to meet with him at the White House. He described them as witnesses "to the ominous nature" of the North Korean regime.
Ji said Trump's gesture raised international awareness of their fight to escape the North, as well as grim situations facing other North Koreans.
"I have launched hundreds of campaigns and activities to let people know about the human rights situation in North Korea, but President Trump's address has marked a milestone in North Korea's human rights," he said during an interview with The Associated Press and two South Korean media outlets.
Ji Seong-ho holds up his crutches after being acknowledged by President Donald Trump during Trump's address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 30, 2018.
Ji said he found Trump's efforts to improve human rights conditions in the North sincere.
"When he gave me a hug, I felt the warmth and his sincerity toward North Korean human rights issues," he said.
An outspoken critic of Pyongyang, Ji drew the North's ire. Earlier Tuesday, North Korea's U.N. mission called him "human scum" and Trump's invitation of the defector to the State of the Union address "desperate attempts" to keep up "its 'human rights' racket" against the country.
Since the State of the Union address, the two Koreas have moved toward reconciliation, with Pyongyang sending a large group of athletes and cheerleaders to the Olympics in the South.
North Korea also sent leader Kim Jong Un's sister, Kim Yo Jong, who sat alongside dignitaries during the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang. She also attended a lunch with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and extended an invitation from her brother for Moon to visit Pyongyang for a summit in the near future.
During her three-day visit, Kim fascinated South Koreans with her relaxed manner and gentle smile, and was touted by global media for scoring a diplomatic gold.
But Ji, now a South Korean citizen, said Kim should have apologized to South Korean citizens and North Korean defectors living in the South.
"I thought she was too arrogant. She shouldn't be walking around like that holding her head high," Ji said. "I wish we could get apologies from North Korea for the pains they caused to me and other defectors."