The sister of North Korean leader, Kim Yo Jong, criticised ongoing military drills in South Korea and warned the new U.S. administration against “causing a stink” if it wants peace, state news reported on Tuesday.
The statement comes a day before America’s top diplomat and defence chief are due to arrive in Seoul for their first talks with South Korean counterparts.
“We take this opportunity to warn the new U.S. administration trying hard to give off powder smell in our land,” Kim said in a statement carried by state news agency KCNA. “If it wants to sleep in peace for coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are travelling in Asia this week for foreign policy and security talks with allies in Japan and South Korea, among other stops.
The timing of Kim’s comments seems designed to ensure that North Korea will be at the top of Blinken and Austin’s agenda when they land in Seoul, said Ramon Pacheco Pardo, a Korea expert at King’s College London.
“Until now, the discussion was focusing on The Quad, dealing with China and the North Korea policy review,” he said. “Now Kim’s statement will be central to discussions.”
North Korea has so far rebuffed entreaties from the United States to engage in dialogue, the White House said on Monday, as a chill in relations that began under then-President Donald Trump has extended into Joe Biden’s presidency.
Leader Kim Jong Un had three high-profile summit meetings with Trump and exchanged a series of letters, but the nuclear-armed state ended talks and said it would not engage further unless the United States drops its hostile policies.
There was no immediate response from the White House and State Department, or South Korea’s government. Biden’s team has been conducting a review of North Korea policy, which it expects to wrap up in coming weeks.
South Korean and American troops began a joint springtime military drill last week, which was limited to computer simulations because of the coronavirus risk as well as the ongoing efforts to engage with the North.
“War drills and hostility can never go with dialogue and cooperation,” said Kim Yo Jong, who has become a vocal critic of Seoul in state media dispatches.
She mocked South Korea for “resorting to shrunken war games, now that they find themselves in the quagmire of political, economic and epidemic crisis.”
The inter-Korean engagement that had improved in 2018 and is sought by South Korea “won’t come easily again” and North Korea will be watching to see if there is further provocations, she said.
North Korea would consider pulling out of an inter-Korean military agreement aimed at reducing tensions along their shared border, and would review whether to dissolve several organisations aimed at cooperation with the South, Kim said.
Kim Yo Jong’s statement, as colourful as it is, is generally consistent with past North Korean statements expressing frustrations at disparities between words and actions, said Jenny Town, director of 38 North, a U.S.-based website that tracks North Korea.
“How despite the agreements in place, positive actions especially on the inter-Korean agenda have been too few while actions that reinforce the ‘old’ adversarial relationship persist,” she said.