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Kim Yo-jong's statement condemning the South Korea-U.S. joint military exercise and the direction of South Korea-U.S. response
2021-03-19 View : 364 CHEONG Seong-Chang

Kim Yo-jong's statement condemning the South Korea-U.S. joint military exercise and the direction of South Korea-U.S. response

 


Dr. CHEONG Seong-Chang
Director of the Center for North Korean Studies, The Sejong Institute

(softpower@sejong.org)

 

 

Kim Yo-jong, the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's sister, issued a statement condemning the joint military exercise between South Korea and the U.S. in the Rodong newspaper on the 16th, the day before Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's visit to South Korea. Kim Yo-jong, deputy director of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, harshly criticized the South Korean government's request of North Korea's "flexible judgment" and "understanding" of reducing the scale of the joint drill, saying "it is ridiculous, impudent and stupid." She also claimed that the South Korean government chose "March of war" and "March of crisis" instead of a "warm March" in front of the whole nation.

 

The South Korean-U.S. joint military exercise already began on March 8th. It is analyzed that North Korea's announcement of such a statement two days before the end date of the military exercise was based on the foreign ministers' meeting on March 17th and the defense ministers' meeting on the 18th (2+2 meeting). Kim Yo-jong also warned the Biden administration: "If you wish to sleep well for the next four years, it would be better not to create work from the start that will make you lose sleep." Her statement is noteworthy in that it is the first official expression of North Korea's position on the Biden administration.

 

Considering that Kim Yo-jong mentioned "March of war" and "March of crisis" in her statement, North Korea is likely to denounce the 2+2 meeting and proceed with the new weapons test and missile test mentioned by Kim Jong Un at the 8th party convention in January 2021. Kim Yo-jong's statement is interpreted as a warning that if the U.S. reacts excessively, tensions between the U.S. and North Korea will rise again.

 

Kim Yo-jong criticized the South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises and mentioned the possibility of reorganizing the "Committee for Peaceful Unification of the Fatherland," abolishing inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation such as Mount Kumgang International Tourism Bureau, and breaking the inter-Korean military agreement. "The prospects for the South Korean authorities, which are approaching the end of their terms, will be very difficult and easy," she said. However, it is clear that North Korea's hostile actions against the South Korean government, which is active in inter-Korean dialogue, will worsen international opinion on North Korea, strengthen the Korea-U.S. alliance, and boomerang back to North Korea. If North Korea acts to heighten tension on the Korean Peninsula, it will lead to further isolation.

 

In the statement, Kim Yo-jong made it clear that she refused to talk to the Moon Jae In administration because she believes that North Korea can achieve economic recovery and development only by cooperating with China. Therefore, the Moon Jae In administration should invite North Korea to the negotiating table through strategic cooperation with China rather than sticking to the resumption of inter-Korean dialogue that North Korea refuses.

 

In order to attract active cooperation from China, it is desirable to discuss denuclearization of North Korea and its corresponding measures in full-scale four-party working-level talks and summits involving the U.S., China, North Korea, and South Korea. While North Korea can reject the U.S. proposal for talks, it will be difficult to keep rejecting China's request for talks in a situation where cooperation with China is urgently needed for North Korea's economic recovery and development. If the four-party talks on North Korea's nuclear issue are held, the two countries will discuss denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula, the suspension of the Korea-U.S. joint military training, normalization of North Korea-U.S. relations, and human rights in North Korea.

 

The second reason for the need for four-party talks on the North Korean nuclear issue is that the North Korean nuclear issue is directly related to the security of South Korea, China, the U.S., and North Korea. North Korea's nuclear program is not only a challenge to the U.S. nuclear non-proliferation regime but also the biggest threat to South Korea's security. As evidenced by the deployment of U.S. troops in South Korea due to North Korea's advanced nuclear and missile capabilities, North Korea's nuclear weapon is increasing U.S. military power on the Korean Peninsula and negatively affecting China's security.

 

The third reason for the need for the four-party talks to discuss the North Korean nuclear issue concerns the deep-rooted mutual distrust and hostility between the U.S. and North Korea. The U.S. has a strong distrust of North Korea's willingness to negotiate nuclear weapons, and North Korea has expressed strong doubts about the U.S. hostile policy toward North Korea. Under these circumstances, it is difficult for the U.S. and North Korea to resume bilateral negotiations, and even if the talks are held and an agreement is reached, the implementation process will not be smooth. Therefore, it is necessary for South Korea and China to participate in the negotiations and come up with a compromise or alternatives that can resolve the concerns of the U.S. and North Korea. China will also participate in the process of verifying North Korea's nuclear facilities and dismantling nuclear weapons, contributing to the smooth progress of the process.

 

Kim Yo-jong's statement reaffirmed that unless South Korea and North Korea reach an agreement on the Korea-U.S. joint military exercise, it will be difficult to resume inter-Korean dialogue. Therefore, the South Korean government must first closely discuss the conditions under which the South Korea-U.S. joint drill can be suspended or abolished during the denuclearization process. If the South Korean government continues to talk about the issue of the South Korea-U.S. joint military exercise, which North Korea recognizes as a serious threat, without deciding or presenting a policy, and keeps talking about the 'declaration of the end of the war,' it will all be irrelevant. North Korea believes that South Korea does not fully understand the North's position and when the North's demands continue to be ignored, North Korea may take a tougher course. Therefore, it is desirable for the South Korean government to quickly summarize and present the joint position of South Korea and the U.S. on North Korea's demands.

  

Kim Yo-jong's position was lowered from the first deputy director of the party to a deputy director, but her position was confirmed to be no different considering that her statement was published on the front page of the Rodong newspaper and her behavior. In addition, it was revealed that Kim Yo-jong is in charge of North Korea's policies toward the South and the U.S. in this statement. Currently, both the U.S. and North Korea are not inclined to hold a meeting, and there is a clear limit to discussing the issue of giving up nuclear weapons, which is the core of North Korea's security. Therefore, South Korea and the U.S. should actively consider holding high-level talks between Kim Yo-jong, North Korea's number two, and Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. official number two, in order to advance the U.S.-North Korea dialogue.

 

 Translators note: This is a third partys unofficial translation of the original paper which was written in Korean. All references should be made to the original paper.

 This article is written based on the authors personal opinions and does not reflect the views of the Sejong Institute.