© 2022 Toate drepturile rezervate. SEOmaxim Romania

Acasă / News / North Korea military threats ‘intended to deflect from economic crisis’

Create a News listing

North Korea military threats ‘intended to deflect from economic crisis’

Postat la Aug 13, 2021

North Korea’s threat to boost its military capacity to counter hostility from Washington before joint US-South Korea military drills is intended to divert attention from its economic crisis but could lead to a resumption of missile tests, according to analysts.

While there is nothing unusual about North Korean opposition to the summer exercises involving American and South Korean forces, its warning this week that Seoul and Washington faced “greater security threats” comes from a position of weakness not seen since Kim Jong-un came to power a decade ago.

Battered by extreme weather, coronavirus restrictions and international sanctions imposed in response to its ballistic and nuclear missile programmes, North Korea is facing one of the worst economic crises in its 73-year history.

Kim has taken the unusual steps of apologising for the parlous state of the economy and imploring his 25 million people to prepare for challenges he likened to the “arduous march” of the 1990s, when as many as three million people are thought to have died during a famine.

The US and South Korea insist the drills are intended only to test their defence capabilities against a belligerent and nuclear-armed North Korea, but Pyongyang claims they are rehearsals for a US-led invasion.

That the latest condemnation of the drills came from Kim Yo-jong, Kim’s influential sister, suggests the stakes are being raised as the regime attempts to shift the focus away from its myriad domestic challenges, including food shortages and disruption to trade with China caused by anti-coronavirus restrictions.

“North Korea’s amped up rhetoric against scaled down US-South Korea defence exercises appears to be more about domestic politics than signalling to Washington,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

“The Kim regime is shifting blame for its struggles to restart the economy after a long, self-imposed pandemic lockdown. Pyongyang is also trying to pressure South Korean presidential candidates to express differences with US policy on sanctions and denuclearisation.”

Kim Yo-jong, who is widely considered the de facto second-in-command in North Korea, this week condemned South Korea for pushing ahead with “dangerous” joint exercises with the US in comments carried by the official KCNA news agency.

North Korea would boost its “deterrent of absolute capacity”, including for “powerful preemptive strike”, to counter the ever-increasing US military threat, she said in a statement that observers assumed had been approved by her brother.

“The reality has proven that only practical deterrence, not words, can guarantee peace and security on the Korean peninsula, and that it is an imperative for us to build up power to strongly contain external threats.”

The statement was more explicit than those issued in previous years, calling on Washington to remove its 28,500 troops from South Korea, as South Korean forces and their American counterparts began preliminary training ahead of 10 days of computer-simulated drills from Monday.

Analysts said Kim’s tone, and the specific demand for a troop withdrawal, was designed to cause friction between Washington and Seoul as South Koreans prepare to elect a new president next spring to replace the liberal Moon Jae-in, who has invested considerable political capital in reaching out to his neighbour.

The regime is hoping that some of the candidates looking to succeed Moon, who can govern only for a single five-year term, will take issue with the US’s uncompromising stance on denuclearisation and sanctions relief – major obstacles to progress since talks broke down after Donald Trump’s disastrous summit with Kim Jong-un in Hanoi in February 2019.

Pyongyang’s warning over the joint drills came after it agreed last month to resume cross-border hotlines after more than a year – another attempt, analysts say, to pressure South Korea into convincing Washington to make concessions on denuclearisation. On Friday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said officials north of the countries’ heavily armed border had not answered calls for a third straight day.

While the allies have scaled down their joint exercises in an attempt to encourage North Korea to join negotiations, US officials said this year’s drills would proceed as planned.

“Let me reiterate that the joint military exercises are purely defensive in nature,” US state department spokesman Ned Price said, when asked about Kim Yo-jong’s threat.

“As we have long maintained, the United States harbours no hostile intent towards the DPRK,” he added, using the North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“We support inter-Korean dialogue, we support inter-Korean engagement and we’ll continue to work with our South Korean partners towards that end.”

After 18 months in which North Korea’s focus on containing the pandemic appeared to rule out any dramatic rise in tensions on the Korean peninsula, this week’s warning could signal it is ready to return to more provocative measures, including missile tests, to demonstrate its frustration at the lack of progress with Washington.

But Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Centre for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute in Seoul, pointed out that little had come of previous threats by North Korea timed to coincide with US-South Korean wargames.

“They would suddenly switch to a policy of appeasement whenever it was deemed necessary, when the drills were over,” he said.

With Agence France-Presse