This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
North Korea lambasted South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol, calling him a “diplomatic idiot” on Monday, fueling tensions as Seoul fortifies its alliance with the United States against the North. The outburst also comes at a juncture where several nations are recalibrating their stance to safeguard their national interests revolving around the Korean peninsula.
“No one in the world would lend an ear to the hysteric fit of puppet traitor Yoon Suk Yeol,” North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said, calling the South Korean President a “political immature”, “diplomatic idiot” and “incompetent chief executive”.
KCNA chastised Yoon for having “no elementary political knowledge and common sense of the international relations,” saying South Korea has become a “servile trumpeter and loudspeaker for the U.S.”
The critique came after Yoon issued a fresh warning to North Korea and Russia in an address to the U.N. General Assembly last week, declaring that Seoul and its allies would respond collectively should the two authoritarian states pursue military cooperation.
Yoon said that Seoul, and its allies “would not just stand idly by,” if the two pushed ahead with their “illegal” cooperation. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin offered to aid North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in perfecting his “satellite” technology during their meeting in the Russian far east earlier this month.
Russia’s transfer of relevant technology may pose a threat to the international community as rocket technologies can be used for both launching satellites and missiles. For that reason, the U.N. bans North Korea from launching a ballistic rocket, even if it claims to be a satellite launch.
North Korea on Monday also defended its cooperation with Russia as it berated Yoon. “A trash-like head cannot understand the profound and enormous meaning of the development of the DPRK-Russia friendly relations,” KCNA said, referring to North Korea by its formal name. “Puppet traitor Yoon Suk Yeol is a wrecker and disturber of the regional situation,” it added.
China’s Xi may visit Seoul
North Korea’s emotionally-charged rebuke came as the leader of its traditional ally China, Xi Jinping met South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo in Hangzhou on Saturday. In the meeting, Xi told Han that he would “seriously consider” visiting South Korea, according to the Prime Minister’s office of South Korea.
Beijing is caught between improving relations with its authoritarian neighbors, and the democratic world. A move to strengthen political and military ties with North Korea and Russia could solidify its security in the wake of its rivalry against the U.S. But it could just as well jeopardize efforts to maintain relations with the U.S. and its allies, especially on the economic front, where access to international markets and foreign investment is crucial to arrest a further deterioration of its economy.
Russia, simultaneously, is also aiming to hedge its political risks. Moscow is expected to send its Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrey Rudenko later this week to South Korea, where he is expected to discuss Kim Jong Un’s recent trip to Russia with Seoul.
The Russian official’s visit could be seen as a diplomatic balancing act as Moscow attempts to maintain a stable relationship with South Korea while fostering ties with the North, to mitigate any potential fallout amid shifting dynamics in the Korean Peninsula.
The recent Russia-North Korea summit has sparked a diplomatic skirmish among nations surrounding the Korean Peninsula, said Wang Son-taek, director of the Global Policy Center at the Han Pyeong Peace Institute. With both North Korea and Russia seemingly orchestrating a new cold war, a rigorous diplomatic engagement has ensued among the relevant nations, he noted.
“China, rather than overtly partaking in the Moscow-Pyongyang camaraderie, is likely to maintain discreet cooperation towards the alliance, while exploring avenues of coexistence with the U.S. and its allies. To this end, easing relations with the ROK may help, as a scenario in which the ROK and Japan adopting a staunch anti-China policy stance would be highly unfavorable,” Wang said, referring to South Korea by its formal name.
But Wang pointed out that even though Russia needed North Korea’s ammunition, it is treading cautiously in its relations with the South, as severing ties with Seoul “may constrict its diplomatic leverage.”
“Nonetheless, the forthcoming visit by Deputy Minister Rudenko may present a dichotomy. It could also serve as a diplomatic tactic to pin the blame on the ROK and the U.S., should relations with Russia sour, or potentially to hold the allies accountable for escalating tensions.”
“It appears that a vehement diplomatic contest is in full swing, with every nation striving to optimize its interests amidst the unfolding geopolitical game.”
Yoon, who is a conservative, has been seeking to align Seoul’s foreign policy stance with the U.S. to counter global challenges including North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. To that end, Yoon has focused on strengthening its military and economic cooperation with Washington and Tokyo.
South Koreans are largely divided on Yoon’s policy, with its conservatives welcoming the approach, as they see the alignment could effectively foster the denuclearization of North Korea. On the other hand, its progressives argue that such an approach exacerbates tensions on the Korean Peninsula, stressing that diplomatic resolutions can only be achieved through dialogue and negotiations.