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Kim Jong-un’s rhetorical aggression to intensify throughout year: experts

In fresh threats, North Korean leader vows to wipe out enemies if provoked

By Kim Arin

Published : Feb. 12, 2024 - 15:02

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (center) and his daughter, Ju-ae (left), visit the defense ministry on Feb. 8, 2024, to mark the 76th founding anniversary of the North’s Korean People’s Army, in this photo released by the Korean Central News Agency the next day. (KCNA-Yonhap) North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (center) and his daughter, Ju-ae (left), visit the defense ministry on Feb. 8, 2024, to mark the 76th founding anniversary of the North’s Korean People’s Army, in this photo released by the Korean Central News Agency the next day. (KCNA-Yonhap)

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will likely continue his verbal aggression, on top of weapons tests and military exercises through the remainder of the year, experts in Seoul believe.

In the latest threats made on the founding anniversary of the Korean People’s Army on Thursday, Kim said he was willing to obliterate the country’s enemies -- namely South Korea and the US -- stressing the North’s “combat readiness.”

“If hostile forces attempt to touch the dignity of our nation and people even by a hair’s breadth, it is the unwavering will of the Korean People’s Army to wipe out their strongholds without a trace with a force that is beyond imaginable,” a statement carried by the state official newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, read.

Park Won-gon, a professor of North Korean studies at Ewha University in Seoul, said the threats from the North Korean leader were only going to continue in keeping with the US presidential election timetable.

While South Korea has a parliamentary election coming up in April, “there seems not much Kim can do to solicit the kind of response he desires from the South,” Park said in a phone call with The Korea Herald. “But he will definitely want to turn things around with the next US president, whether it be Biden or Trump.”

Park said that Kim, in order to “assert his presence” in the months leading to the election in Washington, would “seek to elevate the level of the perceived risks North Korea poses” by intensifying threats “to gain leverage in a possible bargain with the incoming US administration.”

He said the “most striking bit” about Kim’s threats last week was stating a “forcible occupation of South Korea” in the event of a contingency -- but that the possibility of that happening is “practically zero.”

“North Korea maintains its stance that it would not undertake a preemptive attack against the South. There is no reason for South Korea and the US to strike North Korea first,” he said.

Yang Uk, a senior researcher at the Asan Institute of Policy Studies, agreed that the North Korean leader’s goal appears to be to “continue to push to create a crisis” throughout the year.

“The statement from Kim is the most aggressive yet, and that is because he is operating with the US and South Korea elections in sight,” he told The Korea Herald.

Russia blames US and allies for North Korean hostilities

In a demonstration of Russia’s deepening ties with North Korea, a senior foreign official of Moscow said Sunday that the US and its allies are responsible for what he called “North Korea increasing efforts to protect its sovereignty.”

The North Korean threats to “wipe out hostile forces” are a “clear illustration of sharply increased risks of a direct military clash on the Korean Peninsula,” said Ivan Zhelokhovtsev, the director of the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry’s first department of Asia. He was speaking during an interview with Russian state-owned news agency, RIA Novosti.

These “warnings,” he said, “must be viewed in the context of the dangerous steps being taken by the US and its allies,” such as joint drills against possible North Korean attacks. He cited such “aggressions and provocations” by Washington as “the root cause of the worsening situation that poses a threat to peace and security in Northeast Asia.”

He said that under the circumstances, Pyongyang is being “forced to take reasonable measures” to “protect against any external attacks on its sovereignty.”

On Russian President Vladimir Putin’s state visit to Pyongyang, Zhelokhovtsev said the invitation by Kim was confirmed and that specific dates would be “agreed upon through diplomatic channels.”

The senior Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry official added that the relations between Seoul and Moscow were “now going through difficult times.”

“Largely due to its allied relations with Washington, Seoul was forced to support the collective West in the hybrid war unleashed against Russia, in which Ukraine is an instrument,” he said.

South Korea and Russia recently engaged in verbal saber-rattling over the situation surrounding the war in Ukraine. After Shin Won-sik, the South Korean defense minister, told an interview with The Korea Herald last month that he personally believes in full support for Ukraine, Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, issued a warning against the South Korean government.

Zhelokhovtsev said whether the two countries could “return to the trajectory of a mutually beneficial partnership” depends on the South Korean side. He said the sincerity of South Korea’s intentions not to sever ties with Moscow will be “judged by specific actions,” in a reference to the fresh set of export restrictions on Moscow that Seoul is introducing in February.