Trump Uses SOTU to Highlight North Korean Defector’s Plight

By Melanie Arter | January 31, 2018 | 9:39am EST
North Korean defector Ji Seong-ho (Screenshot of C-SPAN video)

( - In his first State of the Union speech on Tuesday, President Donald Trump told honored the parents of Otto Warmbier, an American exchange student who died after being detained in North Korea, followed by the story of a North Korean defector who lost both his legs and was tortured by the North Korean government.

“But no regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea. North Korea's reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland. We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from ever happening,” Trump said.


“Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation,” the president said, adding that he “will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations.” He pointed to “the depraved character of the North Korean regime” as a way to “understand the nature of the nuclear threat” that North Korea poses against the U.S. and its allies.

“Otto Warmbier was a hardworking student at the University of Virginia -- and a great student he was. On his way to study abroad in Asia, Otto joined a tour to North Korea. At its conclusion, this wonderful young man was arrested and charged with crimes against the state,” the president said.

“After a shameful trial, the dictatorship sentenced Otto to 15 years of hard labor, before returning him to America last June, horribly injured and on the verge of death. He passed away just days after his return,” Trump said.

After honoring Otto Warmbier’s parents - Fred and Cindy Warmbier - and his siblings, Austin and Greta, who were in the audience, Trump turned his attention to Ji Seong-ho, a North Korean defector.

“Finally, we are joined by one more witness to the ominous nature of this regime. His name is Mr. Ji Seong-ho. In 1996, Seong-ho was a starving boy in North Korea. One day, he tried to steal coal from a railroad car to barter for a few scraps of food, which were very hard to get,” the president said.

“In the process, he passed out on the train tracks, exhausted from hunger. He woke up as a train ran over his limbs. He then endured multiple amputations without anything to dull the pain or the hurt. His brother and sister gave what little food they had to help him recover and ate dirt themselves, permanently stunting their own growth,” he added.

“Later, he was tortured by North Korean authorities after returning from a brief visit to China. His tormentors wanted to know if he'd met any Christians. He had -- and he resolved, after that, to be free. Seong-ho traveled thousands of miles on crutches all across China and Southeast Asia to freedom. Most of his family followed. His father was caught trying to escape and was tortured to death.

“Today he lives in Seoul, where he rescues other defectors, and broadcasts into North Korea what the regime fears most: the truth. Today, he has a new leg. But, Seong-ho, I understand you still keep those old crutches as a reminder of how far you've come. Your great sacrifice is an inspiration to us all,” Trump said, adding that “Seong-ho’s story is a testament to the yearning of every human soul to live in freedom.”


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