Kim Yo-jong, the influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, has warned that a planned joint US-South Korea military exercise will undercut a renewed push for diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula, state-run media reported.
South Korea and the United States regularly stage military exercises, mainly in the spring and summer, but North Korea has long viewed the drills as a hostile act and a rehearsal for a possible invasion.
Kim, a senior official of the ruling Workers' Party, warned South Korea that holding the drills next month would undermine ongoing efforts to rebuild relations between the two Koreas.
The warning, carried by KCNA on Sunday, followed a surprise thaw in frosty relations between the two Koreas, prompted by personal correspondence between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, which led to the restoration of hotlines that Pyongyang had severed a year ago.
Kim said that the decision to restore the cross-border communications was nothing more than reactivating “physical” connections and it would be “thoughtless” to assume that summits are about to happen.
The two Koreas are reportedly in talks to reopen a liaison office and hold a summit as part of efforts to re-establish relations.
However, Kim warned that the mood could swiftly shift if the South goes ahead with the planned military drills with the US.
“I view this as an undesirable prelude which seriously undermines the will of the top leaders,” she said, adding the drill “further beclouds the way ahead of the North-South relations.”
“Our government and military will keep a close eye on whether the South Koreans go ahead with the aggressive war exercises, or make a big decision. Hope or despair? That's not up to us,” she noted.
Following the warning, South Korea claimed that no decision has yet been made on the joint military exercises, but added that the drill should not create tension.
"We have nothing to comment on her statement, but regarding the exercises, the timing and method were not finalized," Ministry of Defense spokesman Boo Seung-chan told a briefing on Monday.
Boo said the planning for the war games will take into account the COVID-19 pandemic, joint defense posture, planned transfer of wartime operational control, but also “diplomatic efforts for establishing lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.”