Saturday 22 July 2017

N Korea dashes 'foolish' hopes of softening stance

Andrew Salmon in Seoul

North Korea's new leadership dashed any hopes of change in the country's hard-line foreign policy yesterday, denouncing such expectations as "foolish".

A day after Kim Jong-un was declared "supreme leader" following the death of his father, a statement from the National Defence Commission said: "We declare solemnly and confidently that the foolish politicians around the world, including the puppet group in South Korea, should not expect any change from us."

These words were recited in strident tones by an announcer on state television. They echoed the country's standard propaganda description of South Korea as a "puppet" of the US.

The statement added that the North would never deal with President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea, whom it labelled a "traitor".

Mr Lee, a conservative, ditched the "Sunshine Policy" favoured by his two predecessors of engagement with the North, arguing that this had produced no reciprocal moves from Pyongyang.

Bombarded

Mr Lee halted all visits to the joint North-South tourism resort at Mount Kumgang -- a significant source of income for Pyongyang -- after a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier in 2008.

After the North torpedoed a South Korean warship and bombarded one of its neighbour's islands with heavy artillery in 2010 -- attacks that claimed 50 lives -- Mr Lee responded by halting all high-level contact with Pyongyang and stopping most humanitarian aid.

North Korea's defiant statement was expected by analysts.

Even so, the belligerent rhetoric dashed some modest hopes.

"The statement is not a surprise, but it is a bit disappointing," said Kim Tae-woo, president of the Korea Institute of National Unification in Seoul, the capital of the South. "Now would have been the time for North Korea to make a new start."

Kim Jong-un, the new leader, is officially aged 29 by the state but may be as young as 27, and studied briefly in Geneva.

The authorship of the statement is unclear. Kim Jong-un is not a member of the National Defence Commission, the military body through which his father exercised power and from which the late leader took his official title: chairman of the National Defence Commission. (©Daily Telegraph, London)

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