SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on Monday offered “bold” economic assistance to North Korea if it abandons its nuclear weapons program and avoids harsh criticism of the North, days after threatening “deadly” retaliation for the outbreak of COVID-19 that blames the South. .
In a speech celebrating the end of Japanese colonization of the Korean peninsula, Yoon also called for better ties with Japan, calling on the two partner countries to face challenges to freedom and saying their shared values will help them overcome historical grievances linked to Japan’s brutal colonial rule. before the end of World War II.
Yoon’s televised speech on the liberation holiday came days after North Korea claimed a widely disputed victory over COVID-19, but also blamed Seoul for the outbreak. The North insists leaflets and other items smuggled across the border by activists spread the virus, an unscientific claim Seoul calls “ridiculous”.
North Korea has a history of pressuring the South when it doesn’t get what it wants from the United States, and there are concerns that the North Korean threat portends a provocation, possibly a major nuclear or missile test or up to and everything border skirmishes Some experts say the North may stoke tensions over joint military exercises that the United States and South Korea begin next week.
Yoon, a conservative who took office in May, said North Korea’s denuclearization would be key to peace in the region and the world. If North Korea halts its nuclear weapons development and genuinely commits to a denuclearization process, the South will respond with large economic rewards that will be provided in phases, Yoon said.
Yoon’s proposal was not significantly different from previous South Korean offers that have already been rejected by North Korea, which has accelerated its efforts to expand its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program, which the program’s leader Kim Jong Un sees it as his strongest guarantee of survival.
“We will implement a large-scale program to provide food, provide assistance to establish infrastructure for the production, transmission and distribution of electric power, and carry out projects to modernize ports and airports to facilitate trade,” Yoon said.
“We will also help improve North Korea’s agricultural production, provide assistance to modernize its hospitals and medical infrastructure, and undertake initiatives to enable international investment and financial support,” he added, insisting these programs would “significantly improve ” life in North Korea. .
Inter-Korean ties have deteriorated amid a stalemate in larger nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang, which were derailed in early 2019 over disagreements over the release of crippling US-led sanctions against the North and the disarmament measures of the North.
North Korea has ramped up its test activity in 2022, launching more than 30 ballistic missiles so far, including its first intercontinental ballistic missile demonstrations since 2017. Experts say Kim intends to exploit a favorable environment for push ahead with its weapons program, with the The UN Security Council was effectively divided and paralyzed by Russia’s war against Ukraine.
According to experts, North Korea’s unusually fast pace of weapons demonstrations also highlights the scope of the aim to force Washington to accept the idea of North Korea as a nuclear power and to negotiate bad economic benefits and security concessions from a position of strength. The US and South Korean governments have also said the North is preparing to conduct its first nuclear test since September 2017, when it claimed to have detonated a nuclear warhead designed for its ICBMs.
Faced with growing threats from North Korea, Yoon has vowed to strengthen South Korea’s defense alongside its alliance with the United States and also strengthen security ties with Japan, which is also alarmed by its nuclear weapons program and ballistics of the North.
South Korea’s relations with Japan declined to postwar lows in recent years as the countries allowed their grievances over history to spill over into other areas, including trade and military cooperation.
Although Yoon has called for future-oriented cooperation with Japan, history may continue to pose an obstacle to relations. The countries have struggled to negotiate a solution after Japanese companies rejected South Korean court rulings in recent years to compensate South Koreans who were subjected to wartime industrial slavery, an issue that could lead to a further diplomatic breakdown if it results in the forced sale of the companies. local assets.
“In the past, we had to break free from the political control of imperial Japan and defend our freedom. Today, Japan is our partner as we face common threats that challenge the freedom of the world’s citizens,” he said Yoon. “As South Korea and Japan move toward a common future and as the mission of our time aligns, based on our shared universal values, it will also help us resolve the historical issues that exist between our two countries.” .
While Washington has said it would push for additional sanctions if North Korea conducts another nuclear test, the prospects for meaningful punitive measures are unclear. China and Russia recently vetoed US-sponsored resolutions at the UN Security Council that would have increased sanctions on the North over its ballistic missile tests this year.
North Korean state media said on Monday that Kim exchanged messages with Russian President Vladimir Putin and celebrated their strengthening ties.
Kim said the countries’ relations were forged by Soviet contributions to Japan’s defeat in World War II and that they were strengthening their “strategic and tactical cooperation and support and solidarity” in the face of military threats from enemies. Putin said closer ties between the countries would help bring stability to the region, the North’s Korean Central News Agency said.
North Korea has repeatedly blamed the United States for the crisis in Ukraine, claiming that the West’s “hegemonic policy” justified Russia’s offensive in Ukraine to protect itself.