In North Korea’s first comments directed at the Biden administration, Kim Jong-un’s sister criticised the US and South Korea for holding military exercises and warned the former against further provocations if it wants a “good night’s sleep for the next four years.”
Kim Yo-jong’s statement on Tuesday was issued as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in Asia to talk to US allies Japan and South Korea about North Korea, as well as regional issues.
They have meetings in Tokyo on Tuesday before speaking to officials in Seoul on Wednesday.
North Korea would consider abandoning a 2018 bilateral agreement on reducing military tensions and abolish a decades-old ruling party unit tasked to handle inter-Korean relations if it no longer had to cooperate with the South, said Kim Yo-jong, a senior official who handles inter-Korean affairs for the North.
She said the North would also consider scrapping an office that handled South Korean tours to the North’s scenic Diamond Mountain, which Seoul suspended in 2008 after a North Korean guard fatally shot a South Korean tourist.
“We will keep an eye on (South Korea’s) attitude and behaviour, and if they become more provocative, we could take exceptional measures,” she said in her statement published in Pyongyang’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper.
“I would also like to take this opportunity to issue a word of advice to the new US administration, which is so eager to give off a smell of gunpowder in our land from across the ocean,” she said.
“If they want to have a good night’s sleep for the next four years, it would be good for them not to do things that would prevent them from sleeping properly from the start.”
Challenges posed by North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and China’s growing influence loom large in the Biden administration’s first Cabinet-level trip abroad - part of a larger effort to bolster US influence and calm concerns about the US role in Asia following four years of Donald Trump’s “America first” approach.
Biden’s presidency begins as Kim Jong-un faces perhaps the toughest moment of his nine-year rule. His country’s battered economy has decayed further amid pandemic border closures, while his summitry with Trump failed to lift crippling sanctions.
Kim has vowed to strengthen his nuclear weapons programme in recent political speeches, as well as saying the fate of US relations depends on Washington's actions.
The 2018 military agreement, which had been the most tangible outcome from the three summits between Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, requires the countries to take steps to reduce conventional military threats, such as establishing border buffers in land and sea and no-fly zones.
But inter-Korean relations have lain in ruin amid the stalemate in the nuclear diplomacy between Washington and Pyongyang.
The South Korean and US militaries began annual military exercises last week that continue until Thursday.
The drills are command post exercises and computerised simulation and don’t involve field training.
The allies said they held the downsized drills after reviewing factors like the status of COVID-19 and diplomatic efforts to resume the nuclear talks with North Korea.
But Kim Yo Jong said even the smaller drills are an act of hostility toward the North. In the past, the North has often responded to US-South Korea drills with missile tests.
“War rehearsals cannot coexist with dialogue, hostility cannot coexist with cooperation,” she said.
Boo Seung-chan, a spokesperson from South Korea's Defense Ministry, said the combined drills were defensive in nature and called for the North to show a more “flexible attitude” that would be constructive to stabilising peace on the Korean Peninsula.
He said the South's military wasn't detecting any unusual signs of military activity from the North.