Editorial in North replaces speech

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Editorial in North replaces speech

North Korea declared 2020 the “first year” of “the battle of a frontal breakthrough” Friday in a lengthy front-page editorial in its official Rodong Sinmun newspaper, stressing that self-reliance was its only way to fight international sanctions.

The editorial, which was only published in Korean by 8 p.m. press time Friday, mentioned the phrase “frontal breakthrough” 33 times, in what appeared to be a sign that Pyongyang would take bolder economic, political, diplomatic and military measures this year to survive the U.S.-led sanctions campaign.

The North highlighted the “economic front” as the “core” foundation of the frontal breakthrough, but said “political, diplomatic and military” fronts were important as well.

In cases which the regime’s sovereignty and survival is threatened, Pyongyang will have to “immediately” carry out a “strong” counterstrike, the piece noted.

Specifically on the United States and other “hostile forces,” the North said it “must not even dream” about those countries “allowing us to live in a stable state,” and that the only way to overcome the current situation is to pursue a frontal breakthrough with “the power of self-reliance.”

The editorial elaborated on the regime’s political, military, economic and diplomatic achievements of 2019 and relayed this year’s goals in each field, largely mirroring the format of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s annual New Year address. Some analysts believe the Rodong Sinmun editorial was a substitute for the New Year’s address that Kim has given every year since 2012, except this year.

Cho Han-bum, a senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said the North may have decided to publish a New Year’s editorial in its official newspaper to solidify anti-American sentiment and internal solidarity in the face of international sanctions.

The editorial came two days after North Korea’s media quoted Kim as saying his country will no longer be bound to a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and would soon unveil a “new strategic weapon.”

The regime did not specify what that weapon would be, but North Korea watchers pointed to a possible launch of an ICBM or a submarine-launched ballistic missile.

In an interview with Fox News on Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper urged Kim to exercise “restraint” and return to negotiations for denuclearization. In case Pyongyang shows any “bad behavior,” Esper said Washington was “prepared” to deter those actions. “We have a full array of forces. They are ready. They’re Air and Naval, Marine, Army forces. We have our South Korean partners with us and then we have a broader set of allies and partners out there as well,” he said.

As denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang remain in deadlock, Seoul’s Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Gunn arrived in Washington Friday to discuss North Korea with his U.S. counterpart David Stilwell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

Kim also planned to meet Allison Hooker, the White House National Security Council’s senior director for Asian affairs, and other think tank pundits before returning to Seoul this weekend.

Sources in the South Korean Foreign Ministry said Seoul and Washington were talking about holding a foreign ministers’ meeting by the end of this month between Kang Kyung-wha and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Preceding that meeting could be a visit by Seoul’s nuclear envoy, Lee Do-hoon, to Washington next week to meet his American counterpart, Stephen Biegun, the U.S. deputy secretary of state and special representative for North Korea.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, BAEK MIN-JEONG [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]
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