The Democratic People's Republic of Korea’s soldiers look towards the demilitarized zone in Paju, the Republic of Korea. (SEONGJOON CHO / BLOOMBERG)
SEOUL –Republic of Korea (ROK) Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul on Wednesday offered to resign amid worsened relations with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), according to local media reports.
The ROK presidential Blue House said on Wednesday that the DPRK criticism of ROK President Moon Jae-in was senseless and that it will no longer accept unreasonable behavior by Pyongyang
Kim told local reporters in Seoul that he decided to step down as the chief of the unification ministry, in charge of inter-Korean affairs, to take responsibility for the worsening relations between the two Koreas.
He said he felt sorry for failing to meet demand and expectations of the ROK people who wish for peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula.
Kim, who took office in April last year, expressed his intention to resign earlier in the day to the presidential Blue House.
Relations between Seoul and Pyongyang soured this month as Pyongyang protested against leaflets flown across the inter-Korean border by ROK civic groups, mostly composed of defectors from the DPRK.
The ROK presidential Blue House said on Wednesday that the DPRK criticism of ROK President Moon Jae-in was senseless and that it will no longer accept unreasonable behavior by Pyongyang.
Blue House spokesman Yoon Do-han said criticism of Moon by DPRK leader Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, was a very rude and senseless act that fundamentally damaged the trust built by the two leaders.
“We will no longer accept such unreasonable behaviour,” Yoon said at a briefing, without elaborating.
The DPRK on Wednesday rejected the ROK's offer to send special envoys to ease escalating tensions over defector activity and stalled reconciliation efforts, and vowed to redeploy troops to border areas.
Any moves to invalidate cross-border peace deals pose a major setback to Moon’s efforts to foster more lasting reconciliation with Pyongyang.The announcements made by state media agency KCNA came a day after the DPRK blew up a joint liaison office set up in a border town as part of a 2018 agreement by the two countries’ leaders.
They could also complicate efforts by US President Donald Trump, already grappling with the coronavirus pandemic and anti-racism protests, to persuade the DPRK to abandon its nuclear and missile programs.
On Monday, Moon offered to send his national security adviser Chung Eui-yong and spy chief Suh Hoon as special envoys, the KCNA said. But Kim Yo-jong, also a senior ruling party official, “flatly rejected the tactless and sinister proposal.”
“The solution to the present crisis between the North and the South caused by the incompetence and irresponsibility of the South Korean authorities is impossible and it can be terminated only when proper price is paid,” KCNA said.
The DPRK is also referred to as North Korea and ROK as South Korea.
DPRK’s Rodong Sinmun, the ruling Workers’ Party’s official newspaper, published photos showing the liaison office before and after its demolition, alongside a series of KCNA articles and commentaries criticising ROK.
“Ominous prelude to total catastrophe of North-South relations,” one of the articles was headlined, referring to the office’s destruction.
Kim Yo-jong also harshly criticized Moon in another KCNA statement, saying he had failed to implement any of the 2018 pacts and “put his neck into the noose of pro-US flunkeyism”.
Moon offered to play a mediator role between Trump and Kim Jong-un as they pulled back from trading threats and insults in 2017, leading to a series of meetings in 2018 and 2019 that were high on symbolism but which failed to achieve a breakthrough on denuclearisation.
In Monday’s speech, which marked the 20th anniversary of the first inter-Korean summit, Moon expressed regret that DPRK-US and inter-Korean relations have not made progress as hoped but asked Pyongyang to maintain peace deals and return to dialogue.
“In the eyes of the Kims, Moon’s administration gave too much of false hope that it would defy US pressure to move their relations forward,” said Chun Yung-woo, a former ROK nuclear envoy.
“But after two years, what they have left is a failed summit with Trump and no progress whatsoever on inter-Korean economic cooperation.”
In a separate KCNA dispatch on Wednesday, a spokesman for the General Staff of the DPRK’s Korean People’s Army (KPA) said it would dispatch troops to Mount Kumgang and Kaesong near the border, where the two Koreas had carried out joint economic projects in the past.
The KPA spokesman also said police posts that had been withdrawn from the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) will be reinstalled, while artillery units near the western sea border, where defectors frequently send propaganda leaflets, will be reinforced.
The DPRK will also restart sending anti-Seoul leaflets across the border, he added.
Seoul’s defence ministry has urged the DPRK to abide by the agreement, under which both sides vowed to cease “all hostile acts” and dismantled a number of structures along the DMZ.
Jang Kum-chol, director of DPRK's United Front Department in charge of cross-border affairs, said Pyongyang will never have talks or exchanges in the future with ROK authorities “who evoke only disgust and nasty feelings”.
“It is our stand that we had better regard everything that happened between the North and the South as an empty dream,” he said, according to KCNA.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for inter-Korean dialogue to defuse tension on the Korean Peninsula, said his press office on Tuesday.
"The secretary-general is concerned by the latest developments on the Korean Peninsula," said the press office in a note to correspondents, quoting an unnamed spokesman of Guterres. "The secretary-general calls for the resumption of inter-Korean dialogue leading to peaceful solutions that benefit peace and prosperity for all."
HONG KONG NEWS