Kim Yo-jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s powerful younger sister, slammed South Korea and the US for conducting joint military exercises and threatened to scrap an inter-Korean military pact Tuesday, a day before high-level US officials are to arrive in Seoul.
Kim, who has taken center stage in attacking Seoul and Washington in the past, also sent a direct message to the US for the first time since President Joe Biden took office in January. She warned the US against “causing a stink at its first step,” if it wants to “sleep in peace” for the coming four years, according to a statement carried by the Korea Central News Agency.
The flurry of warnings comes as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are in the region for talks with their counterparts in Japan and South Korea on various issues, including North Korea’s nuclear program. The pair have meetings in Tokyo on Tuesday, and are set to arrive in Seoul on Wednesday.
The US and South Korea have been conducting their annual springtime combined military exercises since last Monday. The drills have been scaled down due to the coronavirus pandemic, with fewer troops and carried out via a computer simulation with no outdoor drills or maneuvers. But Pyongyang lambasted the drills, saying Seoul crossed the “red line” and that the change in the format doesn’t change the hostile nature of the exercises.
“They opted for ‘war in March’ and ‘crisis in March’ again under the eyes of all Koreans, instead of ‘warmth in March’,” Kim was quoted as saying. “War drill and hostility can never go with dialogue and cooperation.”
She added that the “warm spring days three years ago” won’t easily arrive again -- referring to the rapprochement in 2018 following three historic inter-Korean summits -- if Seoul follows the instructions of its master, alluding to the US.
“We will watch the future attitude and actions of the South Korean authorities. And if they dare resort to more provocative acts, we may take a special measure of resolutely abrogating even the North-South military agreement,” she said.
In response, South Korea’s Defense Ministry stressed that the combined military exercise is “defensive” in nature and urged Pyongyang to take a “flexible stance” on the inter-Korean military agreement.
“The Korea-US combined exercise is a command post exercise which has been staged annually and is defensive in nature,” Defense Ministry spokesperson Boo Seung-chan told a regular briefing. “Our stance is that North Korea should take a flexible stance, such as responding to our offer for dialogue for the establishment of permanent and solid peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
He added the South’s military hasn’t detected any unusual signs of military activity from the North.
The two Koreas signed the Comprehensive Military Agreement on Sept. 19, 2018 on the sidelines of the third inter-Korean summit, where they agreed on a series of arms control measures and to cease all hostile acts against each other.
“The military agreement has played a significant role in maintaining peace and stability on the peninsula, and military tension has also been eased under the agreement,” Boo said. “We continuously urge the North to resolve the issues through talks.”
Kim also threatened to disband an office that handles cross-border affairs and dialogue, saying it has “no reason for its existence.” The North will also consider dissolving the office that was in charge of South Korean tours to the North’s scenic Kumgangsan. Seoul suspended tours to the region in 2008 after a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier.
The Unification Ministry, in charge of inter-Korean affairs, also called for talks and cooperation in response to Kim’s warnings.
“In order to ease hostile relations between the two Koreas, it needs to start with talks. In any circumstances, we cannot stop our efforts for talks and cooperation,” a ministry official said.
Kim’s statement also comes after the White House on Monday said the Biden administration had reached out to Pyongyang for dialogue through a number of channels since January, but had received no response.
“Our goal is to reduce the risk of escalation. But to date we have not received any response,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
The nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang remain stalled since 2019. The Biden administration is conducting a review of US policy toward the North, which could be announced in the coming weeks.
By Ahn Sung-mi (firstname.lastname@example.org