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North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, seeks to amend constitution and designate South Korea as ‘main enemy’ – Radio Free Asia

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has pledged to amend the country’s constitution to declare South Korea as Pyongyang’s “primary and immutable enemy,” a decision that could further escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula and beyond.

During a speech at the Supreme People’s Assembly Monday,  Kim articulated the need to revise the North Korean constitution, proposing the idea to include provisions for the “occupation, subjugation, and annexation” of South Korea into North Korea in the event of a conflict on the Korean peninsula. 

“I believe it is right to revise the relevant articles that we will intensify our education and enlightenment efforts to firmly regard the Republic of Korea as the primary and immutable enemy,” Kim said, referring to South Korea’s formal name, as cited by the North’s state-run daily Rodong Sinmun Tuesday.

“Since we have defined the Republic of Korea as a completely separate and hostile nation, abandoning the established notion of it being a partner in reconciliation and reunification, it’s necessary to establish legal measures to precisely define the sovereign territory of our Republic,” Kim said, referring to the North, adding that he no longer sees South Koreans as the same ethnic people.

Hours later, South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol dismissed Kim’s speech, saying that Seoul would “punish” the North if it continues provocations. In a cabinet meeting convened Tuesday, Yoon said that North Korea’s threats are no longer effective, indicating his hardline stance against Pyongyang’s “intimidation.” 

The trade of barbs came as North Korea ramped up tensions on the Korean peninsula over the weekend, firing a hypersonic intermediate-range, solid fuelled, ballistic missile off its eastern coast Sunday.

Pyongyang had already announced that it had developed a new high-output solid fuel engine for its new IRBM in November. The North’s IRBM, including its Musudan missiles, can reach Guam, where United States strategic assets, including B-52 strategic bombers, are located.

North Korea has also been raising tensions in the Yellow Sea, with it firing some 200 artillery shells into waters off its western coast earlier this month at the inter-Korean de facto maritime border of the Northern Limit Line, or NLL. The area is near South Korea’s Baengnyeong and Yeonpyeong islands.

In the latest speech, Kim continued issuing threats in the Yellow Sea and thereby over the South Korea-controlled islands.

“Since our nation’s southern border is clearly defined, we cannot accept any other boundaries, including the Northern Limit Line, as lawful,” Kim said. “If the Republic of Korea encroaches on our territory, airspace, or territorial waters by even 0.001 mm, it will be regarded as an act of war provocation.”

The NLL was established by United Nations Command in 1953 following the Korean Armistice Agreement. North Korea initially did not dispute the decision, but nor did it officially recognize the border. 

Since September 1999, North Korea has claimed a more southerly  “West Sea Military Demarcation Line,” which Pyongyang claims is based on international law delimitation decisions​, and thus the area has been a frequent flashpoint for naval skirmishes between the two Koreas.

On Nov. 23, 2010, for instance, the North shelled Yeonpyeong island, killing four South Korean nationals and injuring 19, while causing severe damage to the entire island. 

Wang Son-taek, director of the Global Policy Center at Seoul-based Han Pyeong Peace Institute, saw Kim’s speech as an expression of dissatisfaction with Seoul’s North Korea policy.

“It appears to be a violent and aggressive complaint about North Korea’s South Korea policy not progressing as desired,” Wang said. “Specifically, North Korea wants South Korea to accept a reunification under the federal system where both governments exist under the banner of ‘one nation but two systems,’ to not label North Korea as the main enemy, and to refrain from attempts of reunification by absorption.”

Failing this, the speech seems to imply an intention to forcefully bring South Korea in line with North Korea’s wishes, Wang added.

“Paradoxically, the speech implies that if South Korea complies with these demands, dialogue and the possibility of restoring the fraternity in inter-Korean relations could still take place. This potential reconciliation, however, is being communicated in a notably harsh manner.”

Last week, North Korea removed the concept of “one people” shared with South Korea from its media outlets, redefining South Korea as a separate entity instead of “the same Koreans.” This change in stance was followed by a complete shutdown of these media outlets shortly thereafter.

Edited by Taejun Kang and Mike Firn.

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