- Missing Australian PhD student and North Korean resident Alek Sigley made an impassioned plea to Donald Trump last year not to bomb Pyongyang ahead of his first summit.
- It was one of a number of articles Sigley wrote regarding life in the North Korean capital, as he enjoyed almost unprecedented access to social media and the internet.
- His disappearance comes as world leaders gather in South Korea to discuss its northern neighbour.
- If the North Korean regime was to attempt to use Sigley, who has reportedly been arrested, as a political bargaining tool, it could “backfire” on them, a North Korea expert told Business Insider Australia.
As one of the few foreigners living in North Korea, Australian student Alek Sigley was granted seemingly unprecedented freedom before he fell out of contact with family and friends.
READ MORE: Here’s everything we know about Alek Sigley
Despite living in a country that forbids access to the internet, Sigley was able to use Facebook and Twitter to share his experiences with the world.
“Nobody has really established a reputation for being able to virtually live tweet out of North Korea what he’s having for dinner and breakfast and what people are wearing — that is something new,” Executive Director of La Trobe Asia Euan Graham told Business Insider Australia.
Sigley used his unique position to establish a media platform, writing dozens of articles about his experiences as one of the few foreigners able to walk around with relative freedom and even operate his own tour company.
“It’s very unusual that he’s enrolled in the most prestigious university in the country and at the same time is able to apparently set up his own company. So he is obviously a very driven and quite an unusual person,” Graham said.
(2/4) Having my measurements taken, I ordered a football/soccer kit identical to that of the DPRK National Team, and a DPRK Olympic uniform.
(2/4) 나는 이 상점에 가서, 치수를 잰 후 북조선 축구 종합(국가대표) 팀, 올림픽 선수단이 입었던 것과 꼭같은 것을 주문했다. pic.twitter.com/nRLBYFfUuY
— Alek Sigley (@AlekSigley) June 22, 2019
He used his platform last year to issue a plea to US President Donald Trump, in an article published by Independent Australia titled ‘Dear President Trump, please don’t bomb my wedding in North Korea’.
In it, he commended Trump for attending the first of two summits with Kim Jong-un and being open to diplomacy.
“By agreeing to meet with Kim Jong Un, you’ve taken a step in the right direction —- towards laying the foundations for the peace that has eluded the Korean peninsula for 70 years,” Sigley wrote.
“You’ve also reduced the probability of bombs raining down on us and our wedding guests —- who will include family and friends from all over the world. For that, I am truly thankful.”
It was an interesting political message coming from the PhD student, described by his family as “an Australian-born Asian scholar and traveller”.
While Sigley’s public photos and articles presenting the country all appear carefully considered, the North Korean regime is notoriously sensitive.
“t doesn’t take much. Even if you were to send a crumpled image of Kim Jong Un or Kim Jong-il that would certainly be something that would incur the wrath of the North Korean authorities,” Graham said.
While authorities try to confirm what has happened to Sigley since he fell out of contact on Tuesday, he appears to have gone missing at a crucial time in geopolitics as Trump hits at a possible third with North Korea.
Just last year, Trump said the death of Otto Warmbier, an American student who died after 17 months imprisonment in North Korea, had brought about the first diplomatic summit.
As Trump gets ready to dine with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Japan before travelling to Seoul to speak with Korean President Moon Jae-in, it opens up the suggestion that Sigley could have been targeted.
“The most disturbing scenario here would be that Sigley has been picked up as a pawn to establish some kind of leverage because of Australia’s status as a close ally to the United States,” Graham said.
“There are no captive Americans currently held in North Korea and Australia might be the closest thing available so in very crude realpolitik terms you can imagine how that might pan out ahead of a potential third summit.”
If his reported arrest was politically-motivated, Graham believes it’s a political miscalculation.
“I think it’s only self-defeating because Alek was clearly in many ways on the side of North Korea, and if they are subjecting to this kind, arbitrary arrest for purely geopolitical reasons, I think there’s every chance this could backfire on the government there.”