U.S. Computer Games Have Kim Jong Un’s Little Sister Raging About ‘Nuclear War’
Kim Jong Un’s notorious little sister blasted the virtual U.S.-South Korea military simulations as “preliminary exercises for nuclear war.”
North Korea has unleashed its favorite weapon in a renewed campaign to intimidate South Korea’s liberal president into stopping upcoming virtual military exercises with the U.S.—and otherwise yielding to the will of leader Kim Jong Un.
The weapon of choice: Kim’s younger sister, Yo Jong. On Tuesday, she came out with a rhetorical blast at the war games, which are played almost entirely on computers between the U.S. and South Korean commands, calling them “preliminary exercises for nuclear war” beginning with “a preemptive attack on the DPRK,” the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
To show she speaks directly for her brother, her statement, carried in English by Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency, concludes with the unusual line, “I release this article upon authorization.”
Kim Yo Jong, whose title is deputy department director of the central committee of the ruling Workers’ Party, chaired by her brother, attacked the war games just as South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and his aides were talking about the size and scope of the exercises, which open next Monday for ten days. Americans and South Koreans, under their Combined Forces Command, have already begun “crisis management training” as a prelude to the exercises.
In a fit of petulance, North Korea on Tuesday failed to take calls on a North-South “hotline” that the North had restored two weeks ago after cutting them off 13 months ago in retaliation for drops of propaganda leaflets launched from the South by North Korean activists. Moon, who banned the leafleteering to placate the North and get on with talks, had seen reopening of the hotline as a sign the North was ready to resume negotiations.
Calls from South Korea’s unification and defense ministries “went unanswered,” according to Yonhap, the South Korean news agency, hours after the hotline and military channels had been operating normally.
While Kim Jong Un is largely silent on the war games, Yo Jong remains the tart-tongued voice of North Korea’s demands for South Korea to refuse to join them and for the U.S. to withdraw its 28,500 troops from the South.
“They are the most intensive expression of the U.S. hostile policy towards the DPRK aimed at stifling our state by force of arms,” she said in her latest statement. “They are an undesirable self-destructive act which must be paid for sure as they threaten the security of the Korean people and further jeopardize the situation of the Korean peninsula.”
North Korea’s wrath has struck a chord among Moon and his aides, who are hoping to negotiate with the North for the first time since the abortive summit of February 2019 between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump in Hanoi. Trump cut off that summit, a follow-up to his first meeting with Kim in Singapore in June 2018, after failing to get him to agree to give up his nuclear program in exchange for an end to sanctions.
Moon & Co. have warned that the war games may cause “provocations” from the North in the form of more missile tests, including the launch of a long-range missile capable of carrying a warhead to the U.S., or even a seventh underground nuclear test. North Korea last tested a nuclear device in September 2017 after Trump in the United Nations threatened to rain “fire and fury” on the North. Trump changed his tune next year in Singapore, where he professed he and Kim “fell in love,” after which he sought to ingratiate himself by abruptly canceling war games due to be held two months later.
Kim Yo Jong’s statement evoked the worst fears of North Korea reverting to a hard line despite economic difficulties that her brother has warned may be the country’s worst since the “arduous march” of the 1990s, in which as many as two million North Koreans died of starvation and disease.
“If peace is to be settled on the Korean peninsula, the United States must withdraw its aggressor forces and hardware from South Korea first of all,” she said, justifying the nuclear program that the U.S. has long insisted has to go.
“Only practical deterrence can ensure peace and security of the Korean peninsula,” she went on, promising to strengthen “our national defense capability and powerful ability for preemptive attack.”
The rhetoric left South Korean officials and political leaders badly divided.
The director of the South’s national intelligence service, Park Jie-won, has called for “flexibility,” meaning possible cancellation of the war games that the South reluctantly agreed on under intense pressure from its own military leaders, and others at the unification ministry had made the same pleas. The Americans and South Koreans say such exercises are essential to bringing about OPCON, a plan for placing all forces under South Korean “operational control” rather than under the American general in command of U.S. Forces Korea and the Combined Forces Command.
“We should keep in mind that the Kim family regime's political warfare strategy relies heavily on its blackmail diplomacy. The use of increased tension, threats, and provocations to gain political and economic concessions,” said David Maxwell, a former special forces colonel in South Korea. “It is this kind of controversy that makes the OPCON transition hard and undermines confidence” in the ability of the South Koreans to assume command.
South Korean leaders, said Maxwell, now with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, should not “sacrifice readiness over the misguided belief” that “canceling, postponing, or scaling back readiness training will change Kim's behavior.”
Appointed by Moon as NIS director last year after a long record of looking for reconciliation with North Korea, Park Jie-won now faces the embarrassment of his own agency accusing four activists of accepting a $20,000 bribe from North Korea to propagandize in the South against the U.S.-Korean alliance. The NIS alleges the four had campaigned for Moon’s election in 2017 after the jailing of his conservative predecessor, Park Geun-hye, on corruption charges and had actively battled the acquisition from the U.S. of F-35 fighter planes.
The four are accused of violating South Korea’s national security law, enacted during the worst days of North-South confrontation. The charges provide ammunition for conservatives who accuse Moon of bending to the will of the North Koreans in hopes of reviving North-South talks and leaving a legacy of reconciliation before South Korea’s next presidential election next year. Moon, under the South’s constitution, cannot run for a second five-year term.