Kim Jong-un has vowed to make his country’s military “invincible” to counter what he called persistent hostility from the US.
The hermit kingdom’s leader gave mixed signals during a speech at an event on Monday by saying that while his primary objective was to give North Korea an “invincible military capability” no one would dare challenge, these objectives must not be seen as threatening war with its neighbour South Korea or the US, its regional ally.
Mr Kim said his plans for an “invincible” military were for the country’s “rights to self-defence” and not “because of South Korea”.
“I say once again that South Korea isn’t the one that our military forces have to fight against,” he said. “Surely, we aren’t strengthening our defence capability because of South Korea. We shouldn’t repeat a horrible history of compatriots using force against each other.”
Mr Kim said the country’s “enemy is war itself” and not countries like “South Korea and the US.”
“But our external efforts for peace do not in any way mean giving up our rights to self-defence,” he added.
Mr Kim criticised both the countries and issued oft-repeated claims that the allies are building up their military might in the region.
“The US has frequently signalled it’s not hostile to our state, but there is no action-based evidence to make us believe that they are not hostile,” he said.
“The US is continuing to create tensions in the region with its wrong judgments and actions.”
Mr Kim attacked South Korea for building up its military and its combined military exercises with the US.
He accused the country of stoking tensions between North and South Korea with its “wrong judgments and actions” while describing it as a “source” of instability in the Korean Peninsula.
“The military threats our country is facing is different from what we saw 10, five or three years ago,” Mr Kim said, adding that the ongoing tensions could not be resolved because of the US.
Mr Kim also denounced South Korea for being “hypocritical” and having “double standards” for its persistent military development, even as the South condemned the North’s weapons development tests terming them to be “provocations”.
Mr Kim made the comments during a speech at “Self-Defence 2021”, a rare defence exhibition that marked the founding anniversary of the ruling Workers’ party with a display of its military prowess.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency released photographs of the North Korean leader surrounded by weaponry, including large intercontinental ballistic missiles, at the event. It was described by South Korean media as the first such event held by the North.
The North Korean leader’s conflicting messages to Seoul and Washington came after the country test fired four missiles in less than a month in September, including nuclear-capable weapons that could reach targets in South Korea and Japan as well as US military bases there.
Last week, North and South Korea restored a crucial cross-border hotline for communications which had been stalled since August, in an apparent sign of thawing ties. Mr Kim had earlier said the country was willing to reestablish the line as a conditional olive branch.
Meanwhile, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price has offered talks with North Korea “anywhere and at any time” without preconditions.
But Mr Kim has called it a “cunning” attempt to conceal the US’s underlying hostilities towards the North, as he has held out for Washington to ease international trade sanctions before the talks can be resumed.