South Korea offers North economic benefits for denuclearization

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol offered “bold” economic aid to North Korea on Monday if it abandons its nuclear weapons program and avoided harsh criticism of North Korea days ago. after he threatened “deadly” retaliation for the COVID-19 pandemic. -19 outbreak that blames the South.

In a speech celebrating the end of Japan’s colonization of the Korean peninsula, Yoon also called for better ties with Japan, calling the two countries partners in navigating challenges to freedom and saying their shared values ​​will help them overcome. historical grievances related to Japan’s brutal colonial rule. before the end of World War II.

Yoon’s televised speech on the liberation holiday came days after North Korea claimed a widely disputed victory about COVID-19, but also blamed Seoul for the outbreak. North Korea insists that leaflets and other objects that activists carry across the border spread the virus, an unscientific claim that Seoul describes as “ridiculous.”

North Korea has a history of ratcheting up pressure on the South when it doesn’t get what it wants from the United States, and there are concerns that North Korea’s threat heralds a provocation, possibly a nuclear or missile test. important or even border skirmishes. Some experts say North Korea may stir tensions around joint military exercises that the United States and South Korea are set to begin next week.

Yoon, a conservative who took office in May, said North Korea’s denuclearization would be key to peace in the region and the world. If North Korea stops its nuclear weapons development and genuinely commits to a denuclearization process, the South will respond with huge economic rewards to be delivered in stages, Yoon said.

Yoon’s proposal was not significantly different from previous South Korean offers that have already been rejected by North Korea, which has been accelerating its efforts to expand its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program, leader Kim Jong Un sees as your best guarantee of survival.

“We will implement a large-scale program to provide food, providing assistance to establish infrastructure for electric power production, transmission and distribution, and carry out projects to upgrade ports and airports to facilitate trade,” Yoon said.

“We will also help improve North Korea’s agricultural production, provide assistance to modernize its hospitals and medical infrastructure, and carry out initiatives to enable international investment and financial support,” he added, insisting that such programs would improve “significantly.” North Korean life. .

Inter-Korean ties have soured amid a deadlock in broader nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang, which derailed in early 2019 over disagreements over sharing a release from crippling US-led sanctions against the North and steps disarmament of the North.

North Korea has ramped up its test activity in 2022, launching more than 30 ballistic missiles so far, including its first ICBM demonstrations since 2017. Experts say Kim intends to exploit a favorable environment to boost his program. of arms, with the UN Security Council divided and effectively paralyzed by Russia’s war against Ukraine.

North Korea’s unusually fast pace of weapons demonstrations also underscores a brinkmanship aimed at forcing Washington to accept the idea of ​​North Korea as a nuclear power and negotiate bad economic gains and security concessions from a position of strength. experts say. The US and South Korean governments have also said North Korea is preparing to conduct its first nuclear test since September 2017, when it claimed to have detonated a nuclear warhead designed for its intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Facing mounting threats from North Korea, Yoon vowed to bolster South Korea’s defense along with its alliance with the United States and also strengthen security ties with Japan, which is also alarmed by North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic weapons program. North.

South Korea’s relations with Japan have sunk to post-war lows in recent years as the countries have allowed their grievances over history to spill over into other areas, including trade and military cooperation.

Although Yoon has called for future-oriented cooperation with Japan, history may still be an obstacle to relations. The countries have struggled to negotiate a solution after Japanese companies rejected South Korean court rulings in recent years to compensate South Koreans who were subjected to industrial slavery during the war, a problem that could cause further diplomatic rupture if it results in the forced sale of the companies. local assets. Even as Yoon called for improving bilateral relations, her Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing “deep disappointment and regret” after three members of Cabinet of Japan he visited and prayed at the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japanese war dead, including some war criminals. The shrine is seen in South Korea as a symbol of Japanese militarism.

“In the past, we had to free ourselves from the political control of Imperial Japan and defend our freedom. Today, Japan is our partner when we face common threats that challenge the freedom of the citizens of the world,” Yoon said. “When South Korea and Japan move towards a common future and when the mission of our time aligns, based on our shared universal values, it will also help us resolve the historical problems that exist between our two countries.”

While Washington has said it would push through additional sanctions if North Korea conducts another nuclear test, the prospects for significant punitive measures are unclear. China and Russia recently vetoed US-sponsored resolutions at the UN Security Council that would have increased sanctions on the North over its ballistic missile tests this year.

North Korean state media said on Monday that Kim exchanged messages with Russian President Vladimir Putin and welcomed the strengthening of their ties.

Kim said the countries’ relations were forged by Soviet contributions in Japan’s defeat in World War II and that they were strengthening their “strategic and tactical cooperation, support and solidarity” in the face of military threats from enemies. Putin said closer ties between the countries would help bring stability to the region, the North’s Korean Central News Agency said.

North Korea has repeatedly blamed the United States for the crisis in Ukraine, claiming that the West’s “hegemonic policy” justifies Russia’s offensive in Ukraine to protect itself.


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