North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Wednesday declared the regime will continue to develop its nuclear program and debut a new “strategic weapon” in the near future, if the US does not end its economic sanctions.
His remarks -- during an unexpectedly long four-day meeting of ruling party officials, reported by the state-run Korea Central News Agency -- signals the country plans to revert to its prior “byungjin” policy of simultaneously developing nuclear capabilities alongside the economy.
The North had dropped the aggressive byungjin line and pursued the “economy-first” policy in April 2018, with a self-imposed moratorium on intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear tests, hoping that the decision would prompt the US to lift its economic sanctions.
Indicating a shift in the country’s position, Kim said there is no longer a need to be bound by its self-imposed moratorium, as the US continues conducting military drills, adopting cutting-edge weapons and imposing sanctions on the North, the KCNA reported.
“Under such conditions, there is no reason for us to be unilaterally bound to the commitment any longer,” Kim was quoted as saying. “If the US continues to pursue a hostile policy against the North, there will never be denuclearization on the peninsula.”
Kim also said the North will push forward with developing strategic weapons, saying, “The world will witness a new strategic weapon by DPRK in near future,” while giving no further details, referring to the official name of his country, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“In the face of ‘gangster-like’ acts by the US, our external environment hasn’t changed from when we took the byungjin line to now when our efforts are focused on economic development,” he said of the reason for developing new strategic weapons.
“In the face of increasing (US) hostility and nuclear threats, we cannot forgo future security for tangible economic benefits.”
Kim also threatened to take unspecified “shocking actual” action if the US does not soften its stance.
The report on Kim’s remarks at the Workers’ Party of Korea meeting appears to have replaced the annual New Year’s address that he has delivered every year since 2013 to announce the country’s policy direction. Instead of his signature televised-address, North Korea’s main newspaper Rodong Sinmun reported the results of the plenary session, while the KCNA aired a 55-minute recap video on the event in the morning.
Kim, however, left the door open for dialogue, saying the “scope and depth” of upping the North’s nuclear deterrents will depend on the US’ future attitude. Nuclear negotiations remain deadlocked since the collapse of the US-North Korea summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, last February, as they failed to narrow their differences over UN-led sanctions that have been crippling the North’s economy.
Reacting to the latest comments, US President Donald Trump stressed he and Kim still have a “very good relationship” and the North Korean leader was a “man of his word.”
“We have to do what we have to do,” Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida. “But he did sign a contract. He did sign an agreement talking about denuclearization … in Singapore. I think he’s a man of his word. So, we are going to find out.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he hopes Kim will take a different course. “We are hopeful that Chairman Kim will make the right decision, (that) he will choose peace and prosperity over conflict and war,” he told Fox News. “I hope he doesn’t go in that direction.”
Seoul pressed Pyongyang not to introduce new strategic weapons. “If the North carries out (strategic weapon tests), it would not help the denuclearization negotiation and establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula,” said Lee Sang-min, a spokesperson for the Unification Ministry.
Analysts say that in 2020, North Korea will return to the previous byungjin policy while raising concerns on what stance South Korea should take.
“Officially North Korea is sticking to the ‘economy construction’ stance, while practically, it is reverting to the byungjin line of developing strategic weapons,” said Seoul’s Institute for National Security Strategy. “The fact that the North is not officially announcing a change in course is due to political pressure and external impact by changing the strategy only after two years.”
“Kim Jong-un believes time is on North Korea’s side. Therefore, it would be difficult to expect the North returning to the US-North Korea negotiation table with sincerity,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior analyst at the Sejong Institute in Seoul.
“As the North is fixed on taking a new stance of practically giving up negotiations with the US and bolstering nuclear and missile capability, the US and South Korea must seriously consider what kind of diplomatic, security strategy it is going to take against nuclear-armed North.”
By Ahn Sung-mi (email@example.com