Top Pyongyang official chides Seoul, but affirms halt to hostility
North Korean senior official Kim Yong-chol, once the right hand man to the regime’s leader Kim Jong-un, said the South's behavior will determine the future of inter-Korean relations, according to state media on Thursday.
“Now is a critical moment when we can foresee the prospects of inter-Korean relations from the south Korean authorities' future attitude and approach,” Kim Yong-chol said in an English-language statement carried by the regime mouthpiece Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). “Taking the advantage of this, the south Korean minister of 'Defense,' busied himself to save his face and acted a fool making a bluff. This is very pitiful.”
The statement primarily condemned remarks made by South Korean Minister of National Defense Jeong Kyeong-doo during a National Assembly hearing on Wednesday. Responding to Pyongyang’s abrupt de-escalation this week, Jeong had said North Korea should completely withdraw — rather than suspend — its hostile plans toward the South.
The retort from Kim Yong-chol, who serves as vice chairman of the Central Committee of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, emerged just hours after later, slamming Jeong for exhibiting “imprudent behavior” with his assertions that Seoul will maintain an alert posture toward the North.
While ostensibly just more vitriol leveled at otherwise predictable comments from Seoul’s leadership, Kim Yong-chol’s statement also served as an affirmation that Pyongyang's decision to halt further hostile moves toward Seoul was grounded in — using the official’s own words — “self-restraint and good faith.”
Détente “can truly be ensured and guaranteed only by efforts and patience of both sides based on mutual respect and trust,” Kim added, in language that paralleled that of the South's frequent appeals to the North.
Of course, Kim didn't fail to remind Seoul that Pyongyang could overturn its newfound restraint at any time, and resume its campaign of aggression against the South.
“It may sound threatening, but nothing will turn out favorable when our ‘suspension’ becomes ‘reconsideration’,” Kim said, adding that South Korea "has to realize that self-control is the ‘key’ to tiding over the crisis.”
Seoul’s Defense Ministry on Thursday declined to offer a further response to Kim Yong-chol’s statement, indicating a desire to keep the situation contained after Pyongyang unexpectedly curtailed its aggressive actions this week.
The response from the Ministry of Unification, South Korea’s top inter-Korean agency, was more sanguine.
“It is an optimistic sign that North Korea chose to suspend further military actions at the most critical time, and [we] hope inter-Korean relations can be improved through further dialogue on mutual interests,” a ministry official told reporters.
Experts in Seoul noted that the statement was released in Kim Yong-chol’s name, and said it could suggest the Workers’ Party United Front Department was still in charge of dictating relations with Seoul. The department, once headed by Kim Yong-chol, is one of the North’s inter-Korean agencies.
“Vice chairman Kim’s statement is intended to assuage the North’s military regarding the decision to suspend military action plans, and warn the South on its language,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [firstname.lastname@example.org]