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N. Korea's war of words

July 27, 2017

The global community loudly criticizes Kim Jong-un's regime over its nuclear and missile programs. But Pyongyang, using its state news agency KCNA, accuses other nations of hypocrisy. Julian Ryall reports.

Nordkorea Raketentest Hwasong-14 public viewing
Image: Reuters/KCNA

With the international community continually increasing pressure on the regime of Kim Jong Un, Pyongyang is increasingly lashing out against governments and individual leaders around the world that it believes are attempting to frustrate its agenda

The EU has been a consistent and firm critic of North Korea on issues ranging from human rights to the testing of nuclear weapons and the development and launch of long-range ballistic missiles.

Pyongyang has largely overlooked those condemnations and used its state media, KCNA,  to attack its more traditional enemies - the United States, South Korea and, to a lesser extent, Japan.

But in June, the EU adopted additional restrictive measures against North Korea to complement UNSC resolutions, including expanding the prohibition on investments in the North to new areas, including metallurgy and aerospace. More restrictions were imposed in computer services and business linked to mining and manufacturing in the chemical and refining industries.

Travel restrictions were also imposed on four individuals linked to promotion of the North's nuclear and missile development programs, while 41 people and seven organizations had their assets in Europe frozen.

The European Council said it had acted because the North Koreans have "violated multiple UNSC resolutions and constitute a grave threat to international peace and security."

'Black hearted' Germany

Bildergalerie Geschichte der NATO Demonstration gegen Doppeltbeschluss Hofgarten Bonn 1982
Germany has a history of opposing nuclear proliferationImage: AP

Pyongyang has responded by singling out Germany for criticism, partly because of a recent debate in the Bundestag on the future security outlook for Europe.

A report from KCNA claimed that European states had concluded that the US commitment to the defense of Europe had diminished after US President Donald Trump took office.

"Germany recognizes, though belatedly, that the security of Europe should be protected by Europe itself and the fullest guarantee for security is to possess a nuclear deterrence," the KCNA report said.

The article goes on to accuse the German government of hypocrisy in its attitude towards North Korea's development of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles for its defense.

It should be noted that there is no evidence of the German military developing or deploying long-range missiles and Germany does not posses nuclear weapons.

"What matters is that Germany, which is greatly interested in its own security, often slanders the DPRK, turning blind eyes to the inevitability of its access to nukes and bolstering up its nuclear force," the KCNA report continued.

"Nevertheless, politicians of Germany fault the nuclear deterrence of the DPRK whenever a chance is given to them. (…) It is a wicked and black-hearted idea."

Justifying the North's nukes

According to Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at the Japan campus of Temple University, Europe's strongly worded criticisms do not appear to have any effect on Kim's leadership. Instead, the young dictator seems to be aggrieved at the way in which other nations' perceived transgressions are overlooked by the international community.

"They believe they have a valid point when it comes to the way in which Iran has been treated, for example, or how India has essentially been forgiven for not signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and carrying out nuclear tests," Kingston told DW.

"Pakistan has also been termed a 'rogue nuclear power,' but they also escape censure because they have close security ties with the US. So North Korea sees others being forgiven while Pyongyang is vilified as a double-standard," he said.

Read:North Korea vows to expand nuclear arsenal in defiance of US warnings

Nordkorea Besuch Kim Jong-Un Weisenhaus
Kim Jong-Un's regime needs to control the domestic narrative Image: picture-alliance/dpa/KCNA

Bizarre criticism

According to the expert, singling out Germany for criticism is "a bizarre move," particularly as German governments have played a constructive role in attempting to communicate and work with the North Korean regime.

Stephen Nagy, a senior associate professor of international relations at Tokyo's International Christian University, says North Korea is following its well-established pattern of pointing out what it claims are inconsistencies in how it is treated in comparison to other countries.

"Their protests are not likely to have any impact on the international community, but we have to remember who their prime audience is for this sort of protest," he said.

"This is aimed at a domestic audience and although this is not a democratic country, it does still have to protect its own narrative and keep those stakeholders at home happy, whether that be the North Korean public, the military or the Workers' Party, just to show that their leadership is pushing back against the 'hypocritical policies' of their enemies," Nagy said.

'Ignorant' politicians 

On July 11, the state-run Korea Central News Agency accused Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop of "hurling mud" after she criticized Pyongyang for launching an ICBM.

Bishop had described the test as a "provocative act in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions" and that North Korea is a "constant threat to regional peace, global security and neighboring countries."

KCNA responded that Bishop's accusation was a "manifestation of their ignorance as politicians devoid of any sense of reality."

It added the threat that northern areas of Australia "are definitely within the strike range of North Korea."

Earlier in July, state media had claimed that comments by Bohuslav Sobotka, the prime minister of the Czech Republic, had "touched off a public furor."

Deutschland Bundesaußenminister Gabriel
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel condemned N. Korea's latest missile test Image: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Zinken

In talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, Sobotka had stated that North Korea's development of weapons of mass destruction "strained the situation" in the region and were a threat to South Korea, Japan and other nations. He added that the international community needs to continue to put pressure on Pyongyang.

KCNA commented that Sobotka "is ignorant of the situation on the Korean peninsula" and said the Czech leader should learn from history and his own nation's inability to stand up to "big powers."

Other nations have echoed Sobotka's concerns, with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on July 4 issuing a statement condemning the North's launch of its first ICBM.

"In launching the missile the regime in Pyongyang has once again violated Security Council resolutions, despite clear warnings by the international community," said the statement.

"I condemn this illegal action by North Korea in the strongest and most categorical terms," Gabriel added.

"Germany and its partners will urge that the sanctions against the regime be implemented efficiently and consistently," the statement said. "North Korea must reach out to the international community without delay and return to the negotiating table."

Julian Ryall
Julian Ryall Journalist based in Tokyo, focusing on political, economic and social issues in Japan and Korea