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Why did Kim's sister resume verbal attacks on Seoul?

Kim Yo Jong,<strong></strong> sister of North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un, attends a wreath-laying ceremony at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, Vietnam, in this March 2, 2019, photo. AP-Yonhap
Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un, attends a wreath-laying ceremony at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, Vietnam, in this March 2, 2019, photo. AP-Yonhap

Statement shows Kim in charge of foreign, South Korea affairs

By Do Je-hae

Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, has come under the spotlight again for a statement she issued Wednesday in response to South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha's recent remarks about the reclusive state's anti-COVID-19 measures.

Media interest has been drawn to the event as it is the first time the North's most powerful woman has issued a statement directed at the South in her own name since one in June that denounced anti-North Korea propaganda leaflets being sent from South Korea.

The statement, released under the title of the first vice department director of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, came after Kang made some negative remarks about Pyongyang's COVID-19 response, saying it was hard to believe that the North did not have any confirmed cases.

North Korean leader's sister berates Seoul's top diplomat for doubt over 'zero COVID-19 cases' North Korean leader's sister berates Seoul's top diplomat for doubt over 'zero COVID-19 cases' 2020-12-09 09:28  |  North Korea
"All signs are that the regime is very intensely focused on controlling the disease that they say they don't have, so it's a bit of an odd situation," Kang said during the IISS Manama Dialogue security conference, Dec. 5. During a military parade in October, Kim Jong-un had reconfirmed that there was no COVID-19 in his country.

"We heard through the news of the details of the words spat out by Kang, impertinently commenting on our emergency anti-epidemic measures during her junket to the Middle East a few days ago," the statement from Kim Yo-jong read. "She spat out outbursts without any calculation and maybe she seems to be in a stew in order to pour more terrible chill on the frozen inter-Korean relations. Her ulterior intention is clear. As we've heard it clearly, we will remember her outbursts forever and perhaps it will have to be calculated correctly."

The statement is largely seen as carrying a message for both South Korea and the U.S., as it coincided with the visit of U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun to Seoul. Some experts say the message is mainly a warning to both South Korea and the U.S. to refrain from provoking North Korea amid a sensitive time, with the COVID-19 pandemic, a power transition in the U.S., the North's "80-day combat to boost economy," and the forthcoming eighth Congress of the Workers' Party of Korea in January 2021.

"The timing of the statement amid Biegun's visit means that Pyongyang wants both South Korea and the U.S. to be more prudent when speaking about North Korea," Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, told The Korea Times. "North Korea has been trying to pursue the image of a normal country, and Kang's remarks made it seem otherwise."

"Her tirade against Foreign Minister Kang would appear to be timed to coincide with Biegun's visit," Donald Kirk, an author on Korean Peninsula issues, told The Korea Times. "They are a warning of North Korea's determination to maintain its usual hard line against South Korea and the U.S. despite the show of cooperation exhibited two years ago. They also are an attempt at intimidation, a way of saying we absolutely will have nothing to do with you while making clear the U.S. will need to cooperate as well."

The statement being released in her name reaffirms her status and authority, according to Yang. "Kim Yo-jong has issued several statements regarding South Korea. It means that at the ruling party level, she is the chief of foreign affairs and South Korea affairs."

North Korea has been unresponsive to any of the health-related proposals that have been offered by South Korea's Ministry of Unification or President Moon Jae-in. At the United National General Assembly in September, Moon proposed a Northeast Asia Cooperation Initiative for Infectious Disease Control and Public Health, the participants of which would be North and South Korea, China, Japan and Mongolia.

The experts noted that the message was aimed at sowing division in the South and showing her influence in the North. She has been widely reported as the second-most powerful person there after her brother.

"Knowing that U.S. and South Korean officials are meeting this week, Kim Yo-jong may be disavowing North Korea's need for aid as a way of lowering the perceived bargaining value of future assistance," Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, told The Korea Times. "It also can't be ruled out that the North Korean regime is calculating the South Korean foreign minister will resign soon. To sow division in the South and claim influence in the North, Kim Yo-jong might want to look responsible for Moon changing another Cabinet position as appeared to be the case with the unification minister in June."



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