North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sent a personal letter to South Korean
President Moon Jae-in to express his condolences over a soaring viral outbreak, Seoul officials said Thursday.
It wasn’t immediately clear if Kim’s letter was an attempt to improve strained ties with South Korea amid a deadlock in broader nuclear diplomacy with the U.S. Earlier this week, Kim’s sister issued insults against Moon’s presidential office in her first official statement.
In his letter to Moon on Wednesday, Kim conveyed a message of comfort to the
South Korean people over the cornonavirus outbreak that has infected more than
6,000 people and killed 37 others in the South. Kim said he was worried about
Moon’s health and expressed frustration that there wasn’t much he could do to
help South Korea at this moment, senior presidential official Yoon Do-han told
reporters. Kim “underlined his unwavering friendship and trust toward President
Moon and said that he will continue to quietly send his best wishes for
President Moon to overcome” the outbreak, Yoon said.
Kim also expressed his “candid thoughts and opinions” about the current
situation on the Korean Peninsula, Yoon said, without providing details. Moon
sent Kim back a letter on Thursday conveying his gratitude to him, Yoon said.
Moon and Kim built personal ties in 2018 when they met three times and
reached a series of agreements aimed at boosting exchanges and lowering
military animosity. Moon, a liberal who espouses a negotiated settlement of the
North Korean nuclear crisis, also facilitated Kim’s first summit with U.S.
President Donald Trump in Singapore in 2018.
North Korea has repeatedly said there have been no cases of the virus on its soil, a claim that is questioned by many outside experts.
The sister of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, attacked South Korea’s presidential office on Tuesday, calling it idiotic a day after the South denounced the North’s first weapons test this year.
Kim Yo-jong, Mr. Kim’s only sister, also serves as one of his closest aides. She helped arrange the first summit meeting between Mr. Kim and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea in 2018, visiting Seoul with her brother’s letter of invitation.
On Tuesday, in the first-ever statement issued under her name, Ms. Kim heaped scorn on South Korea, another sign that relations between the North and South have chilled since the collapse of a second summit meeting between Mr. Kim and President Trump in February last year.
On Monday, North Korea conducted its first weapons tests
this year, which involved large-caliber rockets. Mr. Moon’s presidential Blue
House, called Chongwadae in Korean, immediately blamed North Korea for
her statement on Tuesday, Ms. Kim said the South had no right to criticize the
North’s test when it conducts its own exercises, whether alone or together with
the United States. “Such incoherent assertion and actions made by Chongwadae
only magnify our distrust, hatred and scorn for the South side as a whole,”
she said, according to the English translation by the North’s official Korean
Central News Agency. “It is us who have to express ’strong regret’ at such
incoherent and imbecile way of thinking of Chongwadae.”
Ms. Kim did not attack South Korean President Moon by name. But she said that if South Korea “is set to get down to doing anything with us, it had better be more brave and fair and square.”
[The New York Times]
North Korea has fired two unidentified short-range projectiles from an area near the coastal city of Wonsan into waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, South Korea’s military said Monday. The objects were estimated to have a flight distance of 240 kilometers (149 miles) and altitude of 35 kilometers (22 miles), South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement, adding the projectiles are likely part of North Korea’s combined military drills.
The drills began on Friday, the one-year anniversary of leader Kim Jong Un’s summit in Hanoi with US President Donald Trump that ended without a deal. North Korean state media reported that Kim presided over the exercise, which was intended to “judge the mobility and the fire power strike ability of the defense units.”
If this was a missile test, it would be Pyongyang’s first of 2020. Last year, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said his country would continue to “steadily develop” nuclear weapons and the ballistic missiles to deliver them unless Washington changes course and abandons what Pyongyang calls its “hostile policy.” Weapons experts say test-firing missiles is an important part of improving their accuracy and reliability.
Though weapons tests are important for development purposes,
North Korea’s military moves are often timed for maximum political impact both
at home and abroad.
The US and South Korea chose to postpone military exercises due to the Novel
coronavirus outbreak. These drills usually draw the ire of North Korea. “The
US and South Korea postponing their defense drills and offering humanitarian
assistance has thus earned no goodwill from a Kim regime that sees little
benefit in restarting diplomacy,” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha
University in Seoul, said in email. “Pyongyang instead appears intent on
raising the stakes before South Korea’s April elections and before the ‘Super
Tuesday’ primaries of the US presidential campaign,” Easley said.