North Korean leader echoes earlier bellicose rhetoric after promising to launch new satellites and further expand arsenal.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered his military to “thoroughly annihilate” South Korea and the United States if they initiate a military confrontation in another round of bellicose rhetoric targeting Seoul and Washington.
The two allies ramped up military and political cooperation in 2023 as North Korea conducted a record number of weapons tests, including of a new solid-fuelled intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), and put its first spy satellite into orbit.
At a meeting with North Korea’s top commanding officers in Pyongyang on New Year’s Eve, Kim said his military should “annihilate” the enemy if provoked, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Monday.
Kim has already indicated he plans to put three more satellites into space and further develop his country’s weapons arsenal this year.
“If the enemy opts for military confrontation and provocation against the DPRK, our army should deal a deadly blow to thoroughly annihilate them by mobilising all the toughest means and potentialities without [a] moment’s hesitation,” Kim said, using the abbreviation of North Korea’s official name.
Kim’s comments echo the rhetoric of last week’s yearend party meetings.
During the five-day event to set the policy agenda for 2024, the North Korean leader accused the US of posing “various forms of military threat”.
Kim told the meeting he would no longer seek reconciliation and reunification with South Korea, noting the “uncontrollable crisis” that he said was triggered by Seoul and Washington.
In his New Year’s Day address on Monday, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said he would strengthen his military’s preemptive strike, missile defence and retaliatory capabilities in response to the North Korean nuclear threat.
“The Republic of Korea is building genuine, lasting peace through strength, not a submissive peace that is dependent on the goodwill of the adversary,” Yoon said, using South Korea’s official name.
Pyongyang declared itself an “irreversible” nuclear power in 2022 and has repeatedly said it will never give up its nuclear weapons programme, which it views as essential for its survival.
The United Nations Security Council UNSC) has adopted many resolutions calling on North Korea to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes since Pyongyang first conducted a nuclear test in 2006.
With the US holding a presidential election in November, and Donald Trump once again in the running, analysts have suggested Kim may be hoping his expanded nuclear arsenal will give him leverage against the US should Trump be re-elected.
In 2018-19, Kim met Trump on three occasions but the flurry of diplomacy collapsed after the US rejected Kim’s offer to dismantle his main nuclear complex, a limited step, in exchange for extensive reductions in US-led sanctions.
Since 2022, North Korea has conducted more than 100 missile tests, prompting the US and South Korea to expand their joint military drills. North Korea has also tried to strengthen its relationships with longtime allies China and Russia, which blocked efforts by the US and its partners in the UNSC to toughen UN sanctions on North Korea over its weapons tests.
KCNA said Kim and Chinese President Xi Jinping exchanged New Year’s Day messages on Monday on bolstering bilateral ties.
North Korea faces suspicions that it has supplied conventional arms for Russia’s war in Ukraine in return for sophisticated Russian technologies to enhance the North’s weapons programmes.
The successful launch of the spy satellite came two months after Kim travelled to Russia where he held a summit with President Vladimir Putin and toured Russian weapons factories.