The sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has issued an ominous military threat toward South Korea, vowing unspecified retaliation over South Korean activists who have floated anti-Pyongyang leaflets into the North.
In a cryptic statement late Saturday, Kim Yo Jong vowed her country would “soon take a next action” against South Korea — a move she suggested would be carried out by the country’s military.
“By exercising my power authorized by the Supreme Leader, our Party and the state, I gave an instruction to the arms of the department in charge of the affairs with enemy to decisively carry out the next action,” Kim said in the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
Threat on military pact
It was the most direct threat yet during North Korea’s recent effort to unilaterally raise tensions with the South. Last week, Pyongyang said it would cut off all official communications channels with Seoul and threatened to scrap an inter-Korean military agreement meant to reduce tensions.
Some analysts say North Korea appears to be laying the groundwork for a significant provocation, possibly in an attempt to gain economic or other concessions from South Korea.
“If North Korea hopes a new inter-Korean crisis can bring about a rapid and significant change in Seoul's approach — in a way that could lead to large-scale economic aid to Pyongyang, for example — it may feel a major escalation of tensions is the only way,” tweeted Chad O’Carroll, CEO of Korea Risk Group, which produces the influential NK News website.
North Korea has a long history of deadly military provocations against the South. In March 2010, a North Korean torpedo sank a South Korean warship off Korea’s west coast, killing 46 sailors. A few months later, the North shelled the border island of Yeonpyeong, killing several more people.
The latest escalation in inter-Korean tensions coincides with rumors about the health of Kim Jong Un. Kim, a prolific cigarette smoker who has gained a massive amount of weight in recent years, has made very few public appearances in 2020.
Earlier this year, unconfirmed media reports suggested Kim had undergone a heart operation. Some newspapers inaccurately reported that he had died. He later appeared in public with no obvious signs of new health problems.
Amid the rumors, Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, has taken on a bigger leadership role, frequently appearing in state media and issuing directives, especially related to inter-Korean relations.
This month, Kim has taken aim at North Korean defectors in the South, who for years have floated anti-regime leaflets across the border.
South Korea’s left-leaning government, which desperately wants to improve ties with the North, has tried to placate Pyongyang’s concerns by vowing to legislate a formal ban on such launches and cracking down on groups sending the leaflets.
Seoul also is attempting to move ahead with inter-Korean economic and other projects, which have been held back by international sanctions on North Korea’s nuclear program.
But despite those steps, North Korea has continued to generate the sense of a crisis with Seoul, even allowing rallies in Pyongyang to protest the leaflet launches.
“Getting stronger day by day are the unanimous voices of all our people demanding for surely settling accounts with the riff-raff who dared hurt the absolute prestige of our Supreme Leader representing our country,” Kim said in her statement Saturday.
“I feel it is high time to surely break with the south Korean authorities,” she said. “We will soon take a next action.”
“Rubbish must be thrown into dustbin,” she added.