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Kim Jong-un views US military presence as ‘bulwark’ against China threat: Pompeo

Kim Yo Jong accompanying her brother Kim Jong-un with US President Donald Trump at the Singapore summit, June 12, 2018. (White House/Released)
March 20, 2022

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un views US forces stationed in South Korea as a counterweight and “bulwark” against China’s “real threat” to his sovereignty, former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday.

The former top US diplomat underscored that a critical lesson he learned from nuclear talks with Pyongyang is Kim’s perception of the United States Forces Korea, although the Trump administration “didn’t get all the way to try to convince Chairman Kim that his nuclear weapons pose more of a threat to him than they did a security blanket.”

Pompeo, who also previously served as the director of the CIA and visited Pyongyang multiple times, said Kim declined to give an explicit answer when asked about the implications of the withdrawal of US forces on the Korean Peninsula for his regime, recalling his in-person meetings with Kim.

“Chairman Kim, I would say, tell me what it would look like if America pulled its troops from South Korea. … He would smile and say, ‘I’m not particularly interested in that,’ suggesting somehow that he didn’t want to tell me how important it really was,” Pompeo said in an annual B.C. Lee Lecture on US policy in the Indo-Pacific hosted by the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.

But Pompeo said the North Korean leader’s stance on US forces came to the fore as the Trump administration proceeded with nuclear negotiations.

“As we developed our relationship more fully, what became very clear is he (Kim Jong-un) views the United States of America on the Korean Peninsula as a bulwark against his real threat, which came from Xi Jinping,” Pompeo said.

“He knew that having American troops … (was) the counterbalance not only for the South Koreans, not only for the Japanese, not only for the United States and our Western interests, but for him as well.”

Pompeo went on to say that the summits between Kim and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, which were held in the run-up to three Trump-Kim meetings, do not necessarily evince their close coordination.

“I think a more nuanced, better analysis is that Chairman Kim knows, just like the rest of us in the world now, that Xi Jinping threatens his sovereignty as well,” Pompeo told participants at the event.

The former US secretary of state warned that China would be the one that could topple the Kim Jong-un regime.

“If he is to lose power, it is most likely not to come from the United States, not likely to come from South Korea, but because Xi concludes that a little more territory, a little more real estate, and a little less freedom on the Chinese border is something that the Chinese Communist Party needs,” Pompeo said.

“We need to look no further than Hong Kong or Tibet or Xinjiang to know that what Xi Jinping will demand of Chairman Kim is total and complete subservience.”

But it is also crucial to note that there have been discrepancies between the North Korean leader’s stance on the USFK indirectly conveyed by South Korean and US officials and the country’s position on the matter in public statements.

After his visit to Pyongyang, then-national security adviser Chung Eui-yong in September 2018 said Kim viewed there was no correlation between an end-of-war declaration and the withdrawal of the US forces.

North Korea’s pronouncements have, on the other hand, shown different opinions on the matter. A North Korean government spokesperson’s statement, which was issued in July 2016, elucidated that pulling out US troops from South Korea was one of the five major preconditions for achieving “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

The party regulations, which were revised in January 2021 at the Eighth Party Congress, still stipulate its goal to make “aggressive forces of US imperialism withdraw from South Korea and eventually terminate the US political and military domination over South Korea.”

The most recent example is another press statement released last August under the Party Central Committee’s Vice Department Director Kim Yo-jong, with authorization from the North Korean leader.

Kim Yo-jong explicitly said the “root cause that periodically aggravates the situation on the Korean Peninsula will never be eliminated as long as US forces are stationed in South Korea.”

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