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NISHINO Junya, "North Korea--Statements by Kim Yo-jong and Military Tension"


North Korea--Statements by Kim Yo-jong and Military Tension

Junya Nishino

Senior Fellow


North Korea's confrontational statements and actions toward South Korea have led to increased tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The impetus for the series of confrontations was the publication of the June 4 edition of the newspaper Rodong Sinmun, which contained statements made by Kim Yo-jong, the first vice director of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea. In these statements, Kim criticized the "anti-communist leaflets" distributed by a group of North Korean defectors and suggested the possibility of the Kaesong Industrial Complex being completely dismantled, the Inter-Korean Liaison Office being shut down, and the North-South military agreement being scrapped. After the communications network between the North and South was cut off on June 9, Kim made another statement on June 13, in which she gave advance notice of the destruction of the Inter-Korean Liaison Office. This was carried out on June 16 and was widely publicized both inside North Korea and around the world. Reports within North Korea suggest that these measures were part of a plan for the government to tighten control as economic difficulties in North Korea continue.

 What has become evident as a result of North Korea's recent statements and behavior is its anger over the fact that South Korea has not abided by the North-South agreement that was reached over the course of three summit meetings held between Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un in 2018. A statement issued by Kim Yo-jong on June 17 harshly criticized the Moon Jae-in administration's "toadyism" that placed importance on the US-South Korea alliance and therefore rendered the North-South agreement impotent. As a result of the disclosure of the Moon administration's intention to dispatch Chong Eui-yong, director of the South Korean National Security Office, and others to serve as presidential envoys, it would seem the North lost interest in holding talks with the South. It seems that they are destroying each element of the North-South agreement in order to "reset" relations with the Moon administration. It is as if the North decided that maintaining a less-than-desirable relationship with the South would mean that only a limited amount of economic cooperation would be gained from the South and that even the South's role as "mediator" between the US and the North had already ended. What is most important to the North has always been its relationship with the United States, and thus its relationship with the South was never high on its list of priorities. Since the failure of the US-North Korea Summit Meeting held in Hanoi in February 2019, efforts have been made to strengthen the relationship between the North and China by, for example, realizing Xi Jinping's visit to North Korea in June 2019. Furthermore, the fact that the North has repeatedly test-fired missiles and is making advances in the development of "new strategic weapons" indicates that it expects nothing from South Korea.

 One cause for concern is the fact that the North has given advance notice of its military actions. On June 17, the General Staff Department of the Korean People's Army stated the following. 1. Troops would be deployed to the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the Mount Kumgang Tourist Region; 2. Its withdrawal from the September 2018 North-South Military Agreement and the re-establishment of military surveillance of the demilitarized zone; 3. Reinforcement of the artillery units deployed in all frontline regions, including the Yellow Sea, and the resumption of military exercises; and 4. The opening of frontline regions for the purpose of distributing leaflets in South Korea. It is believed that these specific plans were released in the wake of a statement by Kim Yo-jong on June 13 that said, "The right to carry out our next move will be transferred to the General Staff Department [of the Korean People's Army]." Based on the swift destruction of the Inter-Korean Liaison Office, it is highly likely that actions will be taken before long. However, by carefully avoiding a direct military attack on South Korean territory, the North may be able to skillfully control military tensions. But that is not all; although they have avoided test launching intercontinental ballistic missiles, which would cross the Trump administration's "red line," the North has test launched submarine-launched ballistic missiles, which are the "new strategic weapon" they have been developing. In both cases, "brinksmanship" diplomacy is likely to result. It will be necessary for Japan to actively handle changes in circumstances through cooperation with the international community that assumes that the situation on the Korean Peninsula will become increasingly serious, though this seriousness is unlikely to be limited to worsening North-South relations alone.

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