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Over the past few decades, North Korea’s stance toward South Korea has experienced significant fluctuations. Despite frequently labeling the South as its “sworn” and “principal enemy” and issuing nuclear threats of annihilation, there have been instances of dialogue and discussions regarding potential reunification.
However, recent state media reports indicate a formal abandonment of peaceful reunification as a key policy goal by North Korea. Kim Jong-un, the North’s leader, declared a substantial shift, stating that the South is no longer viewed as a “partner of reconciliation and reunification” but rather as an enemy that may need to be subdued through nuclear warfare.
The prospects of reunification between the two Koreas have dwindled in recent decades due to widening economic disparities and escalating mutual hostility. Kim revealed this altered stance on South Korea during a party meeting at the end of the previous month and in a speech to the North’s Supreme People’s Assembly on Monday.
As part of this shift, Kim has ordered the revision of North Korea’s constitution and propaganda guidelines, eliminating references to “peaceful reunification,” “great national unity,” and designations like “fellow countrymen” for South Koreans. Instead, he seeks to instil the belief that the South is considered a “foreign country” and “the most hostile state.”
Kim talked about the possibility of specifying in the North’s constitution the intention to completely occupy, subjugate, and reclaim the Republic of Korea (ROK), using this as a means to annex it as a part of the North’s territory in the event of a war on the Korean Peninsula.
In recent months, the North Korean leader has been gradually leading up to his new policy, taking aim at South Korea’s strengthening military alliance with Washington under President Yoon Suk Yeol. Kim has criticized the expansion of joint military drills between South Korea and the United States, deeming it a dangerous provocation. He has justified the production of more nuclear weapons and has issued threats of using them against the South.
Expressing his commitment to defend the North, Kim stated, “We do not want war, but we also have no intention of avoiding it. If the enemies ignite a war, our republic will resolutely punish the enemies by mobilizing all its military forces, including nuclear weapons.”
Backing Kim’s new policy, the North Korean parliament dismantled government agencies responsible for promoting exchanges with the South. Additionally, North Korea has shut down radio broadcasts, propaganda websites advocating Korean reunification, and ordered the removal of monuments dedicated to the same cause.
President Yoon responded to Kim’s speech by asserting that North Korea’s threats to “choose between war and peace” would no longer be effective. Kim’s shift in policy follows the breakdown of direct diplomacy with former U.S. President Donald J. Trump in 2019, and since then, he has avoided dialogue with Washington and expressed mistrust of both liberal and conservative governments in South Korea.
Instead, Kim has focused on expanding North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. Analysts view the shift away from the North’s policy of peaceful reunification as an extension of a new diplomatic strategy, eliminating the self-contradiction of threatening nuclear weapons against fellow countrymen and defining the South as an enemy state with no diplomatic ties and in a state of war.
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