For the second time in days, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has berated South Korea for touting its supposed preemptive strike capabilities against the North, saying her country’s nuclear forces would annihilate the South’s conventional forces if provoked.
In a statement carried by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency Tuesday, Kim Yo-jong called South Korea Defence Minister Suh Wook’s recent comments about pre-emptive strikes a “fantastic daydream” and “hysteria of a lunatic”.
While stressing that North Korea doesn’t want another war on the Korean Peninsula, Ms Kim warned that the North would retaliate with its nuclear forces if the South opted for pre-emptive strikes or other attacks, which would leave the South’s military “little short of total destruction and ruin”.
Ms Kim issued a similar statement toward Mr Suh’s comments on Sunday, calling him a “scum-like guy” and warning that the South may face a “serious threat” because of his comments.
Her statements come amid tensions over North Korea’s accelerating weapons tests this year, including its first test of a long-range missile since 2017 on March 24, as her brother revives a nuclear brinkmanship aimed at pressuring Washington to accept the North as a nuclear power and remove crippling sanctions.
Some experts say the North may up the ante in coming months, possibly test-flying missiles over Japan or resuming nuclear explosive tests, as it tries to get a response from the Biden administration, which is distracted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and an intensifying rivalry with China.
The renewed tensions have been a major setback for outgoing South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a dovish liberal who had staked his presidential term on his ambitions for inter-Korean rapprochement.
During a visit to the country’s strategic missile command last week, Mr Suh said South Korea had the ability and readiness to launch precision strikes on North Korea if it detected the North intended to fire missiles at South Korea.
Seoul has long maintained such a preemptive attack strategy to cope with North Korea’s growing missile and nuclear threats. But it was highly unusual for a senior Seoul official under the Moon administration to publicly discuss it.
“In case [South Korea] opts for military confrontation with us, our nuclear combat force will have to inevitably carry out its duty … a dreadful attack will be launched and the [South Korean] army will have to face a miserable fate little short of total destruction and ruin,” Ms Kim said in her latest statement.
“‘Pre-emptive strike’ against a nuclear weapons state? … This is a fantastic daydream, and it is hysteria of a lunatic.”
Mr Moon met Kim Jong-un three times in 2018 and lobbied hard to help set up Mr Kim’s first summit with then-US president Donald Trump in June that year.
But the diplomacy never recovered from the collapse of the second Kim-Trump meeting in 2019 in Vietnam, where the Americans rejected North Korea’s demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a limited surrender of its nuclear capabilities.
North Korea has also severed all cooperation with Mr Moon’s government while expressing anger at US-South Korea military exercises and Seoul’s inability to wrest concessions from Washington on its behalf.
Mr Moon’s term ends in May, when he will be replaced by conservative Yoon Suk-yeol, who openly discussed the pre-emptive attack strategy on North Korea during his campaign. His liberal rivals criticised him for unnecessarily provoking North Korea, but Mr Yoon said he would pursue a principled approach on Pyongyang.
While the Biden administration has offered open-ended talks, North Korea as rejected the overture. It has demanded that Washington remove its “hostile” policy first, a term the North mainly users to refer to joint US-South Korea military exercises and US-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons program.