Pyongyang must go through Seoul to reach Washington, says unification minister

Posted on : 2024-02-08 17:45 KST Modified on : 2024-02-08 17:45 KST
The comments came during a radio interview, in which Kim Yung-ho said Seoul would stick to its stance that the Ministry of Unification would continue to manage inter-Korean relations even amid changes in North Korea
Unification Minister Kim Yung-ho speaks at a roundtable with civic groups organizing for the declaration of a day dedicated to North Korean defectors held at the central government complex in Seoul on Jan. 29. (Yonhap)
Unification Minister Kim Yung-ho speaks at a roundtable with civic groups organizing for the declaration of a day dedicated to North Korean defectors held at the central government complex in Seoul on Jan. 29. (Yonhap)

South Korea’s minister of unification stated last week that the administration in Seoul “upholds the stance that inter-Korean relations should be managed by the Ministry of Unification.”
 
Appearing on the SBS radio program “Kim Tae-hyeon’s Politics Show,” Unification Minister Kim Yung-ho said, “Some foresee that North Korea will do away with the United Front Department and the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea so that the North Korean Foreign Ministry will directly intervene in inter-Korean relations. The South Korean government will not be fazed by such internal changes in North Korea and adhere to existing protocol and systems for North Korean problems.”
 
While some question whether North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s newly established definition of inter-Korean relations as being “between two states hostile to each other” will lead to the end of inter-Korean interchange, the ministry has answered by stating that the Unification Ministry will still be responsible for dialogue between the two countries.

The minister also touched on the increased frequency of North Korean missile tests and speculations coming out of the US that a war may break out on the Korean Peninsula.

“What North Korea is after with its military threats is turning the Korean Peninsula into an area like the Middle East where there’s military conflict on a permanent basis,” he said. 

Kim also said that the recent threats out of Pyongyang are also part of a political psyop, adding that he sees “an intent to foment security anxieties and divide public opinion ahead of April’s general election” on the part of North Korea.

When it comes to the backdrop of the North Korean leader’s recent characterization of inter-Korean relations as those between two states hostile to one another, the unification minister pointed to internal hardships. 

“North Korea’s domestic economy is in a dire state,” he said. “This could be seen as an attempt to spin the blame for the internal crisis on external factors, and to strengthen unity in the regime.”

Kim also said that the change in stance on relations between the North and South as no longer being fellow countrymen should be read as Pyongyang’s means of “justifying nuclear development and using them on South Korea.”

While some say that Pyongyang is acting out a strategy of communicating with Washington while giving Seoul the cold shoulder in consideration of the possibility of a Trump comeback in November’s presidential election, Kim saw other factors as well. 

“While I think there’s a good possibility that North Korea will resort to such a strategy of icing the South out while warming up to America, North Korea can’t get to Washington — and certainly not to Tokyo — without passing through Seoul first,” the unification minister said.

“The South Korea-US alliance is more robust than ever, and the government will be able to dynamically manage things no matter what domestic political changes the US may undergo,” he said. 

By Jang Ye-ji, staff reporter

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