Irish Times | Aug 15, 2017
North Korea’s leader calls on US to desist from ‘reckless actions’ amid signs of easing tensions
Peter Murtagh in Seoul
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the Command of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army in an unknown location in this undated photo released on Tuesday by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency. Photograph: KCNA via Reuters
North Korea on Tuesday eased back on its threat to fire missiles towards Guam, the US Pacific island territory, in what most observers in Seoul saw as another sign that the heat is being taken out of the crisis.
In the North Korean capital Pyongyang, the official KCNA news agency gave the regime’s much anticipated reaction to President Donald Trump’s prediction last week that “things will happen to them like they never thought possible, OK?” if it threatened the United States again.
Visiting the Korean People’s Army strategic force, and being seen in public for the first time in two weeks, President Kim Jong-un was said to have examined the army’s missile firing plans but resolved to “watch the actions” of the US before making any final decision, a response seen as, effectively, a climbdown.
Referring to what it termed “stupid Yankees”, the agency reported Mr Kim as inspecting his army command and saying that if the Americans “persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions on the Korean peninsula and in its vicinity, testing the self-restraint of the DPRK, the latter will make an important decision as it already declared”.
That decision was the threatened test firing of four intermediate-range Hwasong-12 ballistic missiles over Japan and into the sea off Guam. In Guam, it was feared briefly early on Tuesday that the threat was coming to pass when a pop music radio station and a Christian radio station mistakenly broadcast a civil emergency message.
Mr Trump and the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, spoke by phone early on Tuesday (their first conversation since July 31st), with Mr Abe saying afterwards the leaders agreed it was “most important to prevent North Korea from going through with launching missiles”.
“To be prepared for every possible situation, we’ll make utmost efforts to ensure the safety of the public by establishing advanced monitoring and missile defence systems under the solid Japan-US alliance,” he said.
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Meanwhile, South Korean president Moon Jae-in said there would be no war on the Korean peninsula without the say-so of the government of South Korea, as both Koreas marked Korean National Liberation Day. It marks the day in 1945 when Japan, which conquered and occupied Korea in 1910, was defeated and independence was restored.
But the celebrations also serve to underline that, since 1953, the country has been split into North and South because of the civil war started by the North, a reality much lamented in the South.
In his keynote televised speech for the day, Mr Moon invited North Korea to take part in next year’s Winter Olympics, which the South is hosting. Remaining isolated presaged a dark future for the North, he said.
“I once again clarify,” said the president. “We do not want North Korea’s collapse. We will not pursue reunification by absorption nor seek any type of artificial unification.
“Should North Korea continue down this path, there will only be isolation and a dark future for the North. We, too, cannot but increase our sanctions and pressure against the North even if we do not wish to.”
He said his government would “step up its diplomatic efforts” to ensure peace was maintained, though did not specify any particular action.
“The government will prevent a war at all cost,” he said. “We must peacefully resolve the North Korean nuclear issue no matter how many ups and downs there are. . .
“Military action on the Korean Peninsula can only be decided by the Republic of Korea and no one may decide to take military action without the consent of the Republic of Korea.”
Rain and protests
Near the American embassy in central Seoul, the day was marked in torrential rain by various groups and in different ways. For some opposing the US military, it was a chance to protest against the deployment of the Thaad anti-missile defence system.
Mainstream and fringe political parties also gathered with posters and colourful flags and made their presence felt.
Others still used the occasion to celebrate, through the medium of oriental faiths and traditional music and dance, and to lament also the enormous loss of life in the second World War, not least at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, as well as in Korea itself.
Their ceremony was conducted on top of the interpretive centre to Sejong the Great, the 15th century king of Korea and polymath who created the Korean alphabet, and promoted science, technology and the arts.
Among the music from his time that is noted in the centre, above which the celebrations, commemorations and protests were held, are two pieces with a contemporary echo – Botaepyeong (Maintaining the Great Peace) and Jeongdaeeop (Settling Great Tasks).