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Kim Yo-jong's strongly worded statement augurs ill for inter-Korean ties: experts

All News 11:32 March 04, 2020

By Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, March 4 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's harshly worded statement issued this week in the name of leader Kim Jong-un's sister appears aimed at voicing strong displeasure over what it sees as South Korea's overreaction to its scaled-down and customary military drills, experts said Wednesday.

The statement by Kim Yo-jong, first vice-department director of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, might also indicate that the prospect of any breakthrough in long-stalled inter-Korean relations remains bleak for the time being, they added.

On Tuesday night, Kim issued her first official statement, strongly slamming South Korea's presidential office for complaining about the North's recent short-range projectile launches, claiming that they were just an act of self-defense.

She stopped short of directly criticizing President Moon Jae-in but heaped vitriolic criticism and scorn over Cheong Wa Dae's "senseless" and "foolish" act, saying that the South is demanding a stop to the North's customary training while pushing for its own military drills with the United States.

North Korea fired what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles on Monday, the first such launch in about three months. North Korean media later said it was a long-range artillery firing drill overseen by leader Kim.

Cheong Wa Dae immediately convened a security-related ministers' meeting, expressing strong regrets over the latest firings and urging Pyongyang to stop such tension-raising activities.

Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, waits at Pyongyang International Airport on Sept. 18, 2018, for the arrival of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, in this image from live TV coverage shown at the main press center in Seoul. Moon headed to the North earlier in the day on a three-day visit for his third summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. (Yonhap)

"North Korea appears to have been angered by what it sees as the presidential office's automated response and demand for a stop to such drills despite its self-defense exercise which had been toned down in consideration of growing coronavirus fears," Lim Eul-chul, a professor at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University, said.

"The first statement announced by Kim Yo-jong, a member of Kim's family, should also be construed as the expression of leader Kim's strongest possible complaint and regrets toward our government," he added.

Tuesday's firings marked the first such launches since leader Kim threatened earlier this year to showcase a "new strategic weapon" and a "shocking actual action" in the near future, saying that he does not feel bound by his self-imposed moratorium on testing long-range ballistic missiles and nuclear devices.

They also came despite the postponement by South Korea and the United States of their springtime combined command post training amid growing coronavirus fears. Kim Yo-jong emphasized that the postponement was because of virus concerns, not a gesture of peace.

North Korea conducted 13 major weapons tests last year but has been keeping its military operations low-key in recent months amid the outbreak of the coronavirus across the globe.

North Korea did not disclose details on weapons tested this week, but photos released by North Korea's state media showed a rocket being fired from what appeared to be a super-large multiple rocket launcher similar to those tested last year.

Hong Min, a research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said that North Korea appears to be angered by Seoul's sensitive reaction even though Monday's firings were part of the North's seasonal but scaled-down exercise.

South Korea President Moon Jae-in (L) is greeted by Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, on the northern side of the truce village of Panmunjom on May 26, 2018, ahead of the second inter-Korean summit in a month, in this photo provided by Moon's office the next day. (Yonhap)

"It appears that the North conducted the tests in a significantly scaled-down manner," he said. "The projectiles presumed to be missiles appeared to have been fired from a super-large rocket launcher, which is a continuation of the tests it has conducted since last September, and there were no new weapons announced either."

"What seems to be drawing attention is the way North Korean media is covering the firings. There had usually been some kinds of messages aimed at South Korea and the U.S. in their previous reporting on such firings, but this time they provided relatively simple accounts like Kim's supervision and his expression of satisfaction," he added.

From the North's standpoint, Seoul's response must not make sense at all, he said.

Experts said that Kim Yo-jong's statement might also reveal the North's long-held displeasure over what it sees as Seoul's inactive attitude in improving inter-Korean relations for fear of Washington's objection.

Kim is a symbolic person closely involved in inter-Korean rapprochement that led to three historic summits between her brother and President Moon in 2018. She also delivered a condolence message and flowers for the death of Moon's mother in October last year.

With denuclearization negotiations at a standstill, inter-Korean exchanges have been almost stalled as Pyongyang remains unresponsive to Seoul's offers for talks and cooperation, including its push for individual trips to North Korea and a joint fight against the new coronavirus.

Pyongyang has slammed Seoul for dragging its feet in implementing agreements their leaders reached in their three summits in 2018 for fear of Washington's objection.

"Since 2018, there has been little implementation of the agreements ... At a time when no agreements or proposals have been implemented, North Korea's anger appears to have boiled over," Hong said. "It seems that the anger is not something expressed by fits and starts but a demonstration of its underlying feelings about South Korea."

He noted that the North's latest criticism might indicate a long-term stalemate in cross-border relations as Pyongyang appears to believe that South Korea is not ready for cooperation.

kokobj@yna.co.kr
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