|What is assumed to be a new intercontinental ballistic missile is displayed during a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party of Korea in this capture image of Korea Central Television broadcasting, Oct. 10, 2020. Yonhap|
By Nam Hyun-woo
North Korea spouted bellicose rhetoric against both Seoul and Washington, Sunday, following President Joe Biden's address to both houses of Congress, and his administration's completion of a policy review on the North, breaking its weeks-long wait-and-see stance.
Experts said Pyongyang may attempt to rattle its neighbors and the U.S. with a number of low-profile provocations before the May 21 summit between Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. These could involve the closure of North Korea's own organization on inter-Korean relations or the launch of short-range missiles.
North Korea released three statements targeting Washington and Seoul ― two from its foreign ministry and one from Kim Yo-jong, the powerful sister of the North's leader Kim Jong-un.
Kwon Jong-gun, director general of the Department of U.S. Affairs at the North's Foreign Ministry, threatened that the U.S. will face "a very grave situation" because "the U.S. chief executive made a big blunder."
During his first address to Congress, Biden said North Korea and Iran's nuclear programs were "serious threats to America's security and world security," and pledged to address those issues with "diplomacy" and "stern deterrence."
Kwon responded that diplomacy and stern deterrence were "a spurious signboard for covering up its hostile acts" and "a means for posing nuclear threats" to the North, and the Biden administration's new North Korea policy will bring "corresponding measures."
"Now that the keynote of the U.S. new DPRK policy has become clear, we will be compelled to press for corresponding measures, and with time the U.S. will find itself in a very grave situation," Kwon said. DPRK stands for North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Previously, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that the Biden administration had completed its North Korea policy review. She said the U.S. goal remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but the administration's policy "will not focus on achieving a grand bargain, nor will it rely on strategic patience."
In a separate press release, the North's Foreign Ministry condemned a statement by U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price last week, which expressed concern over the human rights situation in the North and called the reclusive regime "one of the most repressive and totalitarian states in the world."
"This becomes an evident sign that it is girding itself up for an all-out showdown with the DPRK, and this is also a clear answer to how we should approach the new administration in the U.S.," the release read.
|Park Sang-hak, head of a North Korea defectors' activist group, Fighters for a Free North Korea, holds a placard criticizing the North's leader Kim Jong-un in this undated handout photo. The group said Friday that it had flown balloons containing leaflets and booklets condemning Kim into the country twice between April 25 and 29. Courtesy of Fighters for a Free North Korea|
Kim Yo-jong also issued a statement blaming Seoul for letting a North Korean defectors organization fly anti-Kim regime leaflets into the country last week.
In the statement carried by the North's Korea Central News Agency, she called it "an intolerable provocation" and said "the South Korean authorities again did not stop the reckless acts of the defectors from the North, winking at them." Kim warned of "a corresponding action," without elaborating.
On Friday, Fighters for a Free North Korea, a group of North Korean defectors, claimed that it had flown balloons carrying leaflets, booklets and U.S. dollars across the border. This came weeks after South Korea criminalized such an act despite criticism from some U.S. lawmakers and international rights groups that the law banning anti-Pyongyang leaflet campaigns limited South Korea's freedom of speech.
Hours after Kim's comments, South Korea's Ministry of Unification said in a statement that police were setting up a special team to investigate the leaflet case, and the law banning leaflet distribution "should be carried out to meet the safety of border area residents."
With tensions on the Korean Peninsula rising again on the North's rhetoric, experts said there is a probability of Pyongyang making hostile comments criticizing South Korea or resorting to low-profile provocations targeting both Seoul and Washington.
"The North announced a plan to increase its military power and nuclear capability during the eighth ruling Workers' Party of Korea Congress in January, and will stick to its itinerary of building up arms," said Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute. "For this, the North will likely use Biden's recent remarks as a pretext, and stage a couple of low-profile provocations such as launching short-range missiles before the South Korea-U.S. summit."
Cheong said Pyongyang is expected to limit its level of provocation given the relatively moderate expressions in the statement from the North's foreign ministry director. According to him, Kwon, who is known as a hardliner, has toned down his rhetoric by indirectly mentioning Biden as the "U.S. chief authority" and described the president's remarks as "a blunder," not a provocation.
"Given the South Korea-U.S. summit is around the corner, there is a chance of one or two short-range missile launches by Pyongyang to pressure Seoul to exercise its influence on Washington's North Korea policy," Cheong said.
Regarding Kim Yo-jong's remarks on the leaflets, Cheong said the North may abolish its organizations on inter-Korean relations, including the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK).
"Kim did not specify what the corresponding reaction would be, and that means the North may wait for the South Korean government's response before making its next move," Kim said. "In her previous remarks, she dropped hints at abolishing the CPRK and other South Korea-related organizations, and there is a possibility that Pyongyang is considering this as a viable option."
In June last year, the North blew up an inter-Korean liaison office in Gaeseong after Kim Yo-jong threatened hostile action toward the South after denouncing the leaflet sending campaign by defectors.