North Korea has pledged to improve its ability to launch “pre-emptive” strikes as joint war games kick off between Seoul and Washington, insisting the yearly drills only threaten stability and propel tensions in the region.
Kim Yo-jong, sister to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and a top official in the ruling Workers Party, condemned the military drills on Tuesday, saying they demonstrate a “hostile policy” by the US and South Korea and effectively simulate an invasion of the north. She added that Pyongyang would expand its defensive capabilities in response.
“[The drills are] an unwelcome, self-destructive action that will come at a price that threatens the safety of our people and endangers the situation on the Korean peninsula,” she said in comments carried by state media, noting that Washington and Seoul had ignored “repeated warnings” about the war games and would now face a “more serious security threat.”
We will further strengthen our absolute deterrence to cope with the ever-increasing US military threat, that is, our national defense and strong preemptive strike capability that can quickly respond to any military action against us.
While the war games will start in earnest on August 16 and run for more than a week, the two sides are reportedly set to hold a preliminary drill on “crisis management training” on Tuesday. The exercises are slated to be scaled-back this year due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and will largely involve computer simulations, but Pyongyang argued they pose a threat “regardless of the size” or the “form they take.”
The north has repeatedly condemned the annual drills over the years, calling the latest round “hostile war exercises” earlier this month, even as Seoul insisted they would not be “used as a chance to heighten tensions on the Korean Peninsula under any circumstances.”
The exercises mark a setback in inter-Korean relations, after the two sides agreed last month to revive a cross-border communications channel shuttered more than a year ago, hailed by Pyongyang as a “big step” toward restoring trust on the peninsula.
In a departure from that more amicable rhetoric, Kim blasted the decades-long US military presence in the south as the “root cause” of tensions on Monday, saying that as long as some 30,000 American troops remain stationed there, hostilities will “never be eliminated.”