President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks to KBS for a special exclusive interview recorded on Feb. 4 at the presidential office in Yongsan. (courtesy of the presidential office)
In a special pre-recorded interview with KBS that was broadcast on Wednesday, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said that North Korea “has been trying to bring South Korea under Communist control for more than 70 years now, and that hasn’t changed.”
Yoon said he was willing to hold an inter-Korean summit regardless of whether North Korea is ready to give up its nuclear weapons, but added that working-level officials from both sides would need to make “bottom-up” preparations before any summit could be held.
Yoon took a hard line on North Korea and its nuclear program in the interview, which aired Wednesday evening.
Yoon said that North Korea “had developed conventional weapons until that became too difficult, and now it’s developing and upgrading nuclear weapons to threaten us.” He added that South Korea needs to make its national security “even stronger” on the assumption that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his regime “are neither reasonable nor rational.”
In regard to the idea of South Korea acquiring its own nuclear arsenal, Yoon said “that wouldn’t take very long if we made up our minds [to do so].” But he also dismissed the idea, calling it “unrealistic.”
“If we were to develop nuclear weapons right now, we would come under the same range of economic sanctions as North Korea. We have to remain in strict compliance with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” he said.
Yoon left open the possibility of an inter-Korean summit. In regard to past inter-Korean summits, he said that past presidents Kim Dae-jung, Roh Moo-hyun and Moon Jae-in had “done their best, but come home empty-handed.”
“We can hold an inter-Korean summit whether or not North Korea gives up nuclear weapons,” Yoon said, adding that “the ‘top-down’ method is not workable. A summit would have to be held after working-level officials have set the agenda and prepared results through the ‘bottom-up’ approach.’”
As for the areas of foreign policy and national security, Yoon reiterated his intention to strengthen relations with Japan and reinforce trilateral security cooperation with the US and Japan.
“We normalized relations with Japan because of the growing importance of national security cooperation on a bilateral level with Japan and on a trilateral level with the US and Japan to counter the North Korean nuclear threat,” the South Korean president explained.
Yoon also said he doesn’t expect any “big changes” in Seoul-Washington relations following the US presidential election this November. “The only question is whether or not our alliance will be upgraded,” he said.
Another topic that came up in the interview was a recent series of decisions by South Korean courts that have found Japanese companies responsible for compensating Koreans who performed forced labor for them during the Japanese colonial period.
“Regardless of any future judgments [about compensation], Seoul-Tokyo relations have been restored,” Yoon said, lauding Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida as “a leader who always keeps his agreements and promises.”
As for Seoul’s relations with Beijing, Yoon said, “We have no particular issues in our trading relations. There’s no cause for serious concern.”
By Jang Ye-ji, staff reporter; Shin Min-jung, staff reporter
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