The powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has derided South Korea’s conservative president for being “foolishly brave,” but called his liberal predecessor “very smart.”
SEOUL, South Korea — The powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has derided South Korea’s conservative president for being “foolishly brave” but called his liberal predecessor “very smart” — rhetoric likely meant to help stoke domestic divisions in South Korea.
Her statement Tuesday came as a response to South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s New Year’s Day address, in which he said he would bolster South Korea’s military capability and enhance its alliance with the United States to cope with North Korea’s evolving nuclear threats.
Since taking office in 2022, Yoon has made such comments numerous times. Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, used Yoon’s latest remarks as an opportunity to fire off derisive rhetoric against him.
“This person … has persistently called for ‘peace by force’ and got hell-bent on the beefing up of the extended deterrence and the South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises, thus putting the destiny of (South Korea) on the last extremity,” Kim Yo Jong said in a statement carried by state media.
Some observers say she may be seeking to boost anti-Yoon sentiments in South Korea among those opposing his North Korea policy ahead of April’s parliamentary elections.
Kim Yo Jong said that Yoon’s “foolishly brave” stance and “fanatical military confrontation posture” have led to North Korea beefing up its military programs. She said Yoon’s New Year’s Day speech once again provided North Korea with a justification to obtain ”more overwhelming nuclear fighting capability.”
Later she compared Yoon with his liberal predecessor, Moon Jae-in, calling the former South Korean president “very smart and crafty.”
She said that Moon’s appeasement policy left North Korea wasting time and failing to press forward with its arms buildup programs. She said Moon pleaded for North Korea to impose a moratorium on its missile and nuclear tests while bolstering South Korea’s own national security by procuring advanced U.S. fighter jets and winning U.S. consent in acquiring more powerful missiles.
But her praise of Moon contradicts earlier statements in which she and her government have previously berated him severely.
In 2021, she called Moon “a parrot raised by America” after he criticized North Korean missile tests. In 2019, in one of the most disdainful insults directed at Moon, an unidentified North Korean government committee spokesperson said that Moon’s comments hoping for better ties would make even the “boiled head of a cow break out into side-splitting laughter.”
“Kim Jong Un and Kim Yo Jong are likely missing Moon’s period because he was easier to deal with,” said Moon Seong Mook, an analyst for the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy. “They likely strongly wish Moon’s allies would win the parliamentary elections and later regain South Korea’s presidency, so they are trying to meddle in South Korean politics.”
On Wednesday, Yoon’s Defense Ministry called Kim Yo Jong’s statement “an irrational claim and sophistry that makes no sense.” A ministry statement said South Korea’s military will strongly and swiftly punish any provocations by North Korea.
Moon Jae-in, who governed South Korea from 2017-2022, was a champion of inter-Korean rapprochement. He met Kim Jong Un three times in 2018, touching off a flurry of short-lived exchange programs between the rivals and helping arrange the first North Korea-U.S. summit held between Kim and then-U.S. President Donald Trump. But North Korea turned a cold shoulder on Moon and cut off ties after its diplomacy with the United States fell apart in 2019.
Moon’s engagement policy drew both praise and criticism. His supporters credited him with achieving cooperation with North Korea and avoiding major armed clashes, but opponents say he was a naive North Korea sympathizer who ended up helping the North buy time to advance its nuclear program in the face of international sanctions and pressure.
Since the collapse of the nuclear diplomacy with the U.S., North Korea has been pushing hard to modernize its nuclear arsenal. That has prompted South Korea and the U.S. — now led by Yoon and President Joe Biden — to expand their military exercises and increase the temporary deployments of strategic U.S. assets like bombers, aircraft carriers and a nuclear-armed submarine. North Korea views such moves as a major security threat.
Moon Seong Mook, the expert, said Kim Jong Un appears “really angry” because his advancing nuclear program has failed to give him a strategic dominance on the Korean Peninsula.
Many experts say Kim Jong Un will likely intensify his weapons tests ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November because he believes he can wrest major concessions like sanctions relief if Trump returns to the White House.
Moon Seong Mook said North Korea won’t likely win what it wants even if Trump is reelected. But some say Trump may meet Kim again and offer concessions, as the U.S. is now preoccupied with other urgent issues like the Ukraine-Russia and the Israel-Hamas wars.