Kim Yo-jong’s coming signals willingness to mend ties with SK, US

By Ock Hyun-ju
  • Published : Feb 7, 2018 - 18:45
  • Updated : Feb 7, 2018 - 18:50
North Korea is seeking ways to mend ties with South Korea and open talks with the US to ease sanctions on the communist regime by sending a member of the Kim dynasty as a delegate to the PyeongChang Olympics, experts say.

On Wednesday, North Korea informed South Korea that its leader Kim Jong-un’s younger sister Kim Yo-jong, first vice director of the Central Committee of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, would be part of the delegation led by the country’s ceremonial head of state Kim Yong-nam.

Kim Yo-jong (Yonhap)

The delegation also includes Choe Hwi, chairman of the National Sports Guidance Committee, and Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country -- an agency that deals with inter-Korean affairs.

“Kim Yo-jong is a messenger for Kim Jong-un. She is expected to deliver the exact intentions and thoughts of the North Korean leader about the regime‘s approach to the nuclear issue,” Kim Yeon-chul, professor at Inje University told The Korea Herald.

“The fact Kim Yo-jong is coming here proves that Kim Jong-un views the current situation very seriously and seeks to ease sanctions on the backdrop of the Olympics,” he said, citing that sanctions have taken a toll on the North‘s economy.

Kim Yo-jong is the first member of so-called “Baekdu bloodline” to visit South Korea. North Korea’s founding principles reportedly stipulate the supremacy of the “Baekdu bloodline” to seek a legitimacy for the Kim dynasty’s continued inheritance of the country’s leadership.

“Kim Jong-un might be thinking that it would be good to talk to the US, but if it doesn’t happen, he would at least seek to improve relations with South Korea," Kim said.

Shin Beom-chul, professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, also viewed Kim Yo-jong coming to South Korea positively as she is a direct channel to Kim Jong-un. But he warned against North Korea’s peace overture.

“It is worrisome that Choe Hwi is coming, given that he has been blacklisted by the UN sanctions and involved in the North’s propaganda campaign for a long time,” he said.

“I think that sending Choi could signal the North’s intention to use the Olympics to promote its propaganda that it is a nuclear-armed state and can coexist with the international community peacefully.”

But the move will likely put South Korea in a tricky position, as both Kim and Choe are subject to sanctions imposed on North Korea.

Kim, the younger sister of leader Kim and vice director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Workers’ Party of Korea, is under the US’ unilateral sanctions. Choe Hwi is on the US as well as the UN sanctions list that includes a travel ban.

Choe Ryong-hae, the de facto No. 2 man and a vice chairman of the ruling party’s central committee, was not included in the delegation, defying speculation here.

North Korea is yet to announce how the North’s high-level delegation will travel to the South. Taking a ferry or flight could violate sanctions against the communist state imposed by the UN, the US or South Korea.

There are speculations that Pyongyang’s high-level delegation will travel to Seoul by Air Koryo, North Korea’s state-owned carrier, which would be in violation of US sanctions. A sanction was placed against Air Koryo in December for its links to weapons proliferation and foreign currency earnings for the reclusive regime.

“For Kim, who is 91 years old, it would be too tough to travel by land. He will probably visit South Korea by air,” former South Korean Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun said in a radio interview Tuesday.

Seoul’s Foreign Ministry maintains that it will not stoke any controversy regarding sanctions, saying it is closely coordinating with the US and the international community on the matter.

The sanctions against North Korea were already temporarily lifted in two cases to facilitate Pyongyang’s participation in the Olympics.

South Korean athletes flew to the North’s Masikryong Ski Resort for joint ski training on a chartered Asiana Airlines plane after the US agreed to exempt the carrier from sanctions. Current US sanctions on North Korea prohibit airplanes from landing on American territories within 180 days of taking off from North Korea.

North Korea’s 140-member art troupe took the ferry Mangyongbong-92 to South Korea and is using it as accommodation here, which is in violation of South Korea’s sanctions imposed on May 24, 2010, to punish the North’s sinking of a South Korean warship. The sanctions ban inter-Korean exchanges and North Korean ships from making a port call in the South.