Kim’s Sister Ratchets Up Pressure on U.S., South Korea on Drills
(Bloomberg) -- Kim Jong Un’s sister stepped up North Korea’s campaign to halt South Korean-U.S. military exercises set to start next week, amid reports Seoul may seek to delay them to keep its recent detente with Pyongyang on track.
Kim Yo Jong said “a dear price should be paid” by South Korea and the U.S. for their “self-destructive behavior,” the state’s official Korean Central News Agency reported Tuesday. The exercises, scheduled to start on Aug. 16, come after North and South Korea in late July agreed to rebuild trust by restoring hotlines cut for more than a year due to political acrimony.
“The dangerous war exercises pushed ahead by the U.S. and the South Korean side disregardful of our repeated warnings will surely make them face a more serious security threat,” Kim said. “I would like to express my deep regret at the perfidious behavior of the South Korean authorities.”
North Korea didn’t answer a hotline call on Tuesday afternoon and ignored regularly scheduled calls inter-Korean calls via a military communication line, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said in a statement. The silence on the lines could be a signal of Pyongyang’s anger that comes just two weeks after the communications links were restored for the first time in a year.
The statement by Kim Jong Un’s sister, one of the prominent faces of Pyongyang’s pressure campaign against Seoul and Washington, reinforces worries North Korea could use South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s desire for talks to try to force him to break with the U.S. The comments reported Tuesday are the second Kim Yo Jong has made in about a week calling for the drills to be canceled.
South Korean media, including Yonhap News Agency, said last week Moon’s government was looking to downsize the drills and a group of more than 70 lawmakers in Moon’s progressive camp also issued a joint statement last week calling for the exercises to be postponed to help improve ties with Pyongyang.
Kim Yo Jong’s comments just reiterated “North Korea’s existing position,” South Korea’s presidential Blue House said in a statement, adding it would closely monitor the situation.
Moon has little less than a year left in office and is looking to make good on a key policy priority of reconciliation with North Korea. His government is seeking help from private and nonprofit groups to provide humanitarian assistance to North Korea as the isolated country battles severe weather and aftereffects of a self-imposed border closure due to Covid, NK News reported Monday.
When asked if there was any division between South Korea and the U.S. over the joint military drills, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in a Monday briefing: “Nothing’s changed about our need for readiness on the Korean peninsula and our desire to work in lock-step with our ROK allies on training regimen that improves that readiness and keeps that readiness strong,” referring to South Korea by its formal name.
The U.S. and South Korea have been holding joint exercises for decades without any major incidents, but that has not stopped North Korea from complaining the drills are a prelude to an invasion and nuclear war. The U.S. and South Korea began four days of crisis-management staff training from Tuesday ahead of the drills, Yonhap reported.
North Korea has sought for decades to leverage the prospect of nuclear disarmament talks to scale back the military exercises, something which former President Donald Trump controversially agreed to do during his summits with Kim Jong Un. Drills were canceled in the first half of 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic and instead computer simulation exercises were carried out in August 2020 and March 2021, raising concerns about the alliance’s readiness to respond in a crisis.
Even though North Korea may be facing some of the greatest food insecurity since Kim Jong Un took power nearly a decade ago, the leader has not given indication he’s willing to unwind his nuclear arsenal in return for economic incentives.
North Korea’s economy in 2020 posted its sharpest drop since a deadly famine in the 1990s due to the coronavirus, natural disasters and international sanctions that have walloped Kim Jong Un’s already struggling state, according to a July report from South Korea’s central bank.
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