North Korea’s Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of leader Kim Jong Un, has bluntly rejected a South Korean offer to help boost the isolated country’s economy if it gives up nuclear weapons.
Kim’s comments mark the first time a senior North Korean official has commented directly on what South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol has dubbed an “audacious plan” under which the South would offer phased economic aid to Pyongyang if it began denuclearisation.
Yoon reiterated the offer on Wednesday at a news conference to mark his first 100 days in office.
“It would have been more favourable for his image to shut his mouth,” Kim Yo Jong said in a statement released by state news agency KCNA, calling Yoon “really simple and still childish” to think that he could trade economic cooperation for the North’s honour and nuclear weapons.
“No one barters its destiny for corn cake,” she added.
Experts say Yoon’s economic plan echoes proposals by previous South Korean presidents, including during the failed 2018 and 2019 summits between then-US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, and said there was little chance that Pyongyang would accept it.
South Korea’s Unification Minister Kwon Young-se expressed “deep regret” in parliament over Kim Yo Jong’s comments describing her criticism of Yoon as “very disrespectful and indecent”.
The North invests a vast chunk of its GDP into weapons programmes, and has long made it clear that it views its nuclear capability as self-defence, and necessary to protect itself in the face of “hostile” policies from the United States, South Korea, and Japan.
“Yoon’s initiative adds to a long list of failed offers involving South Korean promises to provide economic benefits to North Korea … These were the same assumptions that were behind a succession of failed efforts to jump-start denuclearisation talks,” Scott Snyder, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank, said in a blog post on Thursday.
“The acuteness of North Korea’s economic vulnerability will make the leadership all the more resistant towards South Korean-proposed infrastructure projects,” he added.
The KCNA statement indicated the North had no intention to open talks with Yoon.
“Though he may knock at the door with what large plan in the future as his ‘bold plan’ does not work, we make it clear that we will not sit face to face with him,” Kim was quoted as saying.
The KCNA report also confirmed that North Korea test-fired two cruise missiles into the sea on Wednesday.
They were the first tests in weeks and followed Kim’s declaration of “victory” over the COVID-19 pandemic.
North Korea has carried out an unprecedented wave of weapons tests this year, including the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time since 2017.
Pyongyang is banned from conducting ballistic missile tests under international sanctions imposed over its nuclear weapons programme.
It last tested a nuclear weapon in September 2017; however, officials from South Korea and the US believe that preparations for a new nuclear test are underway.