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DPRK Notches Up the Warnings

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Carefully, on little cat feet, Pyongyang has sent a new warning about the mounting dangers of what it sees as Washington’s “all-take-but-no-give” approach in the aftermath of the US-DPRK Summit in Singapore. As a means of escalating the profile of its criticisms while still keeping them from crossing the line into a formal, official complaint, Pyongyang chose to issue a “commentary” on November 2 by Kwon Jong Gun, director of the Foreign Ministry’s Institute for American Studies (IFAS). Kwon is concurrently the director general of the Ministry’s North American Affairs Department, which implicitly gives his words added weight; moreover, this is the first time that an IFAS director has publicly issued a comment since the institute was formed in 2015. Previous comments have been issued in the name of the IFAS “spokesman” or various institute “researchers.” Operating under the IFAS umbrella seems to have given Pyongyang more flexibility in publicly dealing with issues of US-DPRK relations, allowing it to comment at greater length and with somewhat more nuance (though less authority) than statements issued by the Foreign Ministry itself.

Kwon’s threat, carefully couched, raised the specter of the North revising the new “strategic line” announced at a Workers’ Party plenum last April and bringing back the previous “byungjin” two-line policy, i.e., simultaneous focus on the nuclear program and the economy, under which the North made considerable progress in both its nuclear and missile programs from 2013 to 2017. Kwon warned that such a shift back to the previous policy “could” (not “would”) occur if the US fails to mend its ways and sticks to its current course. Perhaps even more serious, he warned that “such a view has already begun to appear in the DPRK.” Presumably, this is meant to be a reference to internal discussions, because Kwon’s was the first time that viewpoint is known to have appeared in DPRK media.

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