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
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
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
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.
※ Translator’s note: This is a third party’s 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 author’s personal opinions and does not reflect the views of the Sejong Institute.