Washington: US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned that North Korea’s new young leader must transform his impoverished country for the better or face a backlash from its oppressed people.
Clinton issued a direct appeal to Kim Jong-Un: “Rather than invest in implements of war, feed your people.”
She was speaking after top diplomats and defence chiefs of the US and South Korea resolved to respond decisively to military provocations from North Korea.
Clinton said Kim, the 20-something who rose to power after his father’s death in December, could go down in history as a transformative leader if he brought North Korea “into the 21st century.”
She said if he continued the model of the past, “eventually North Korea will change because at some point people cannot live under such oppressive conditions: starving to death, being put into gulags and having their basic human rights denied.”
“We are hoping he will chart a different course,” Clinton said.
Kim is the third leader in a hereditary dynasty that has sustained six decades of autocratic rule in North Korea but is unable to feed its own people.
Despite the chronic food shortages, North Korea has invested scant resources to maintain one of the world’s largest standing armies and develop nuclear weapons which it claims are needed to deter a US invasion.
The United Nations reported this week that millions of North Korean children don’t get the food, medicine or health care they need to develop physically or mentally. It said nearly one third of children under five show signs of stunting.
Clinton said that the US, which maintains 28,000 troops in South Korea, would stand “shoulder-to-shoulder” with its ally. Her counterpart, Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan, said Thursday’s meeting in Washington, should send a clear message to North Korea about the strength of the alliance.
Animosity between the rival Koreas is high following a North Korean rocket launch in April that violated a UN ban, and more recently, threats to attack several South Korean media outlets.
In a joint statement issued after Thursday’s talks, the US reaffirmed it would defend South Korea through “the full range of US military capabilities, both conventional and nuclear.” The allies also agreed to strengthen their combined defences against missiles and coordinate against cyber attacks and global position satellite jamming.
The statement said North Korea could still rejoin the international community “if it refrains from provocations and complies with its international obligations and commitments, which include taking concrete actions toward denuclearisation.”