Seoul: South Korea's president warned Tuesday that rival North Korea faces collapse if it doesn't abandon its nuclear bomb program, an unusually strong broadside that will likely infuriate Pyongyang.
President Park Geun-hye, in a nationally televised parliamentary address defending her decision to shut down a jointly run factory park in North Korea, said South Korea will take unspecified "stronger and more effective" measures to make North Korea realise its nuclear ambitions will result only in speeding up of its "regime collapse."
Park shut the park in response to the North's recent long-range rocket test, which Seoul and Washington see as a test of banned ballistic missile technology. North Korea last month also conducted a nuclear test. Both developments put the country further along it its quest for a nuclear armed missile that could reach the US mainland.
Without elaborating, Park said the North has diverted Seoul payments to North Korean workers at the factory park to the Pyongyang leadership, which is in charge of nuclear and missile development. She also said the South has sent more than $3 billion in government and civilian aid to the North since mid-1990s.
South Korea's main liberal opposition party has criticized the government's decision to suspend operations at Kaesong, saying the measure will only deepen tension with North Korea and raise more fear among South Koreans. Liberal lawmakers also said the Kaesong shutdown isn't effective because North Korea maintains economic ties with China and Russia.
It is unusual for a top South Korean official to touch upon such a government collapse in North Korea because of worries about how sensitive North Korea is to talk of its authoritarian government losing power. Pyongyang has long accused Washington and Seoul of agitating for its collapse.
Park's comments are certain to anger North Korea as they were made as the country marks the birthday of late dictator Kim Jong Il, the father of current leader Kim Jong Un.
Seoul officials said North Korea was able to divert the Kaesong payments because the workers there were not paid directly. Instead, US dollars were paid to the North Korean government, which siphoned off most of the money and paid only what it wanted to the employees in North Korean currency and store vouchers, according to a statement from Seoul's' Unification Ministry on Sunday.
The ministry did not detail how it arrived at that conclusion. North Korea has previously dismissed such views.
Earlier this month, North Korea ignored repeated international warnings and launched what it said was an Earth observation satellite aboard a rocket. Washington, Seoul and others view the launch as a prohibited test of missile technology and are pushing hard to have Pyongyang slapped with strong sanctions.
The launch, which followed the North's fourth nuclear test last month, aggravated already-strained ties between the rival Koreas. Last week, Pyongyang expelled all South Korean workers from the jointly run factory park in the North and put the area in charge of the military in retaliation for Seoul's decision to suspend operations there.