Seoul, South Korea –
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on Monday offered “bold” economic assistance to North Korea if it abandons its nuclear weapons program, while avoiding harsh criticism of the North days after it threatened “deadly” retaliation. for an outbreak of COVID-19 that he blames on North Korea. 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 over COVID-19 but also blamed South Korea for the outbreak. North Korea insists that leaflets and other items carried across the border by activists spread the virus, an unscientific claim that Seoul describes as “ridiculous.”
North Korea has a history of ratcheting up pressure on South Korea 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. or even a border. skirmishes Some experts say that North Korea could generate tensions around the joint military exercises that the United States and South Korea will begin next week.
Yoon, a conservative who took office in May, said North Korea’s denuclearization is key to peace in the region and the world. If North Korea stops its nuclear weapons development and genuinely commits to a denuclearization process, South Korea will respond with huge economic rewards to be delivered in stages, Yoon said.
Kim Tae-hyo, Yoon’s deputy national security director, said Seoul is willing to provide financial rewards at each step of a phased denuclearization process if North Korea commits to a denuclearization “road map” and proceeds with the “freezing, declaration, verification and decommissioning”. of its nuclear weapons program.
Yoon’s proposal is 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 programs, considered by leader Kim Jong Un. as their 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 such programs would improve “significantly.” North Korean life. .
Inter-Korean ties have soured amid a deadlock in broader North Korea-US nuclear talks that derailed in early 2019 over disagreements over the relaxation of crippling US-led sanctions. against the North in exchange for disarmament measures.
North Korea has stepped up its missile testing activity in 2022, launching more than 30 ballistic missiles so far, including its first ICBMs since 2017. Experts say Kim intends to exploit a favorable environment to boost his program. of arms while the UN Department of Security Council is divided and effectively paralyzed by Russia’s war against Ukraine.
North Korea’s unusually fast pace in weapons tests also underscores its brinkmanship in forcing Washington to accept the North as a nuclear power and to negotiate much-needed 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 the North’s nuclear and missile programs.
South Korea’s relations with Japan have sunk to post-World War II 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. ‘ South Korean assets. Even as Yoon called for improving relations with Japan, his foreign ministry released a statement expressing “deep disappointment and regret” after three members of Japan’s cabinet visited and prayed at the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japanese dead in the war. war, including some convicted 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 world’s citizens,” Yoon said. “When South Korea and Japan move towards a common future and when the mission of our times 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 will 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 to Japan’s defeat in World War II and that they were strengthening their “strategic and tactical cooperation and 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 Ukraine crisis, saying the West’s “hegemonic policy” justifies Russian military action in Ukraine to protect itself.