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SEOUL—South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol sought to shake up frothy inter-Korean ties on Monday with what he called an “audacious plan.” He offered food aid and economic assistance that could modernize North Korea’s airports and hospitals—only if Pyongyang showed some commitment to denuclearize.
By the end of the week, North Korea gave its answer: “We don’t like Yoon Suk-yeol himself.”
The biting remark came from
Kim Yo Jong,
the sister of the country’s leader and regime mouthpiece, via a Friday news statement published in North Korean state media. It was titled, “Don’t have an absurd dream.”
The conservative Mr. Yoon took office in May and promised a firmer hand with Pyongyang’s perceived misdeeds. The South Korean leader’s latest proposal represents the “height of absurdity,” Ms. Kim said.
“Dogs will always bark, as a pup or an adult, as the same goes for the one with the title of president,” Ms. Kim said.
Mr. Yoon is childish to think he can barter economic cooperation for nuclear weapons, Ms. Kim added, pointing to similar failed offers by his South Korean predecessors and the U.S.
The Kim regime’s rejection of Seoul’s latest proposal sets the stage for Pyongyang to heighten tensions on the Korean Peninsula and justify an acceleration of weapons provocations that were largely put on hold this summer as it battled a Covid-19 outbreak.
North Korea has grown more bellicose against its neighbor in recent weeks, threatening to annihilate the South’s military and blaming Seoul for creating the impoverished country’s Covid outbreak. In the Friday statement, Ms. Kim slammed coming joint military drills between Seoul and Washington, calling them “war exercises.”
Hours after Ms. Kim’s remarks ran in North Korean state media, South Korea’s presidential office expressed regret about Pyongyang’s response. The meaning of Mr. Yoon’s plan had been distorted, and North Korea should consider more careful deliberations about the proposal, the office added.
Mr. Yoon, a 61-year-old career prosecutor, has taken a harder line against North Korea than his left-leaning predecessor who preferred engagement. He has backed pre-emptively striking North Korea in the event of an imminent threat and has called on strengthening deterrence. Yoon administration officials routinely refer to North Korea’s missile tests as provocations, phrasing rarely used by the prior government.
The tougher talk doesn’t mean Seoul is opposed to diplomacy. Mr. Yoon has said he would meet with
Kim Jong Un,
though only when negotiations could produce tangible results toward denuclearization. Any such inter-Korean meeting shouldn’t be a mere political show, Mr. Yoon said at a Wednesday news conference marking his 100th day in office.
North Korea, after laying low for more than two months, returned to weapons tests on Wednesday, test-firing two cruise missiles. The launch came days after Mr. Kim declared victory over the Covid outbreak.
The South Korean military said the Wednesday missiles had been fired from near Onchon air base in South Pyongan province, but didn’t release other details such as the detected flight time or path.
Ms. Kim said South Korea’s detected launch location was wrong and that the test had actually been conducted from a more northern location, adding that the South would be “bewildered and afraid” if they knew the flight trajectory. This was the first time Pyongyang’s state media reported on one of its missile tests since April, staying silent on four consecutive launches.
Even if Mr. Yoon comes up with other plans for inter-Korean engagement, North Korea “will not sit face-to-face with him,” Ms. Kim said.
Pyongyang has largely ignored Seoul’s overtures after a no-deal Vietnam summit in 2019. North Korea blew up an inter-Korean liaison office in 2020 and temporarily severed military hotline communications with the South.
North Korea is fond of outlandish threats and has slammed South Korean presidents before. Ms. Kim called Mr. Yoon’s predecessor, Moon Jae-in, “foolish,” but she often stopped short of directly criticizing him by name. The Kim regime also lambasted Mr. Moon’s two conservative predecessors, referring to Park Geun-hye as “mentally deranged,” while Lee Myung-bak was derided as a “bastard” and a “mad dog.”
North Korea’s mocking Mr. Yoon, like the other conservative presidents, signals a return to a prolonged stalemate in inter-Korean relations, said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute think tank in South Korea.
“North Korea will proceed with coercive measures to threaten South Korea,” Mr. Cheong said.
Write to Dasl Yoon at [email protected]
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