North Korea rejects Seoul’s ‘absurd’ offer of economic aid for denuclearisation

The powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has angrily rejected North Korea’s offer of economic assistance in return for denuclearisation as the “height of absurdity” and dismissed the possibility of face-to-face talks.

The statement comes days after the South Korean president, Yoon Suk-yeol, put forward an “audacious” aid plan that would include food, energy and infrastructure help in return for the North abandoning its nuclear weapons programme.

In a commentary published in Friday’s edition of North Korea’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper, Kim Yo-jong said her country had no intention of giving up its weapons in return for economic aid. “No one barters its destiny for corn cake,” she said, according to the official KCNA news agency.

Analysts previously said the chances of Pyongyang accepting Yoon’s offer – first floated during his inaugural speech in May – were vanishingly slim. The North, which invests a vast chunk of its GDP into developing its nuclear arsenal, has long made it clear it will not make that trade.

Kim, who oversees inter-Korean affairs and is a close confidante of her brother, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, questioned Yoon’s sincerity in calling for an improvement in cross-border ties even as South Korea continues to take part in joint military drills with the US and fails to prevent activists from floating propaganda leaflets across the countries’ heavily armed border.

She said bartering nuclear weapons for economic cooperation “is the great dream, hope and plan of Yoon”, who she called “simple and still childish”, according to KCNA. “We make it clear that we will not sit face to face with him,” she added.

In a nationally televised speech on Monday to mark his first 100 days in office, Yoon offered the North large-scale aid in food and healthcare and help with modernising its power generation capacity, ports and airports. But the proposals were not dramatically different from previous offers rejected by Kim Jong-un, who regards his nuclear arsenal as key to his regime’s survival

North Korea has conducted a host of weapons tests this year, including firing an intercontinental ballistic missile at full range for the first time since 2017.

Tensions are expected to increase next week when the US and South Korea begin their biggest combined military drills for years. The allies insist the exercises are defensive in nature, but the North views them as a rehearsal for an invasion and has responded with missile tests in the past. US and South Korean officials have for weeks been warning that the North is preparing to conduct what would be its seventh nuclear test.

Last week, North Korea threatened to “wipe out” Seoul authorities over a recent Covid-19 outbreak less than a month after Kim Jong-un said his country was “ready to mobilise” its nuclear capability in any war with the US and the South.

Speaking hours after North Korea fired two cruise missiles into the sea on Wednesday, Yoon said the South had no plans to pursue its own nuclear deterrent in the face of the growing threat from its neighbour, adding that he did not wish to see forcible regime change in the North.

Analysts said North Korea was unlikely to accept proposals from the South as long as they resemble those made in recent years. “Yoon’s initiative adds to a long list of failed offers involving South Korean promises to provide economic benefits to North Korea,” Scott Snyder, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank, said in a blog post.

The Guardian