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Jacob Fromer is NK News's Washington DC correspondent. He previously worked in the U.S. Senate.
A lengthy and unusually wrathful statement from a senior North Korean official targeted Shinzo Abe, the Japanese Prime Minister, on Thursday, calling him an “idiot and villain,” a “poor dog and a dwarf,” and an “under-wit” politician who does not understand basic military affairs.
The printed diatribe, published in Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and attributed to Song Il Ho, the country’s top Japan envoy, followed Abe’s recent suggestion to a group of world leaders that a DPRK weapons test last week had violated UN sanctions.
In the same remarks, made at this week’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Plus Three summit in Bangkok, Abe also reportedly said that he would meet with DPRK leader Kim Jong Un “without conditions.”
In his statement, North Korea’s Song Il Ho said people were “laughing” at the idea of the two leaders meeting without conditions, and lashed out at Abe for suggesting that the North had violated sanctions.
“Abe, prime minister of Japan, is an idiot and villain as he is making fuss as if a nuclear bomb was dropped on the land of Japan, taking issue with the DPRK’s test-fire of super-large multiple rocket launchers,” Song said, according to KCNA, referring to the North’s new Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS), which it claimed to have perfected last week.
Song said that Abe was wrong to imply that the MLRS is a threat worthy of sanctions because the new weapon, according to North Korea, is self-defensive.
“It is very shameless for him, who had repeatedly said that the DPRK’s recent successive self-defensive measures ‘have no effect on security of Japan,’ to talk such rubbish as ballistic missiles and violation of the UN resolution,” Song said.
The North Korean diplomat rejected Abe’s calls for a meeting with Kim Jong Un, saying that “anyone can not help laughing at Abe as he is carefully knocking the door of Pyongyang, calling for ‘no-strings-attached talks.'”
“Abe would be well-advised not to dream forever of crossing the threshold of Pyongyang as he hurled a torrent of abuse at the just measures of the DPRK for self-defense,” he said.
“He is, indeed, a deformed child. As such a base, rude and immoral man is the prime minister of Japan, it is censured as ‘politically small nation,’ ‘sinking island country’ and ‘gloomy, desolate country’ by the world,” Song said.
He added, “It is too natural that Abe is treated as a poor dog and dwarf that fails to enter the international political arena with the Korean Peninsula as a center.”
The Japanese Embassy in Washington did not respond to an inquiry from NK News about Song’s statement.
According to Naoko Aoki, an adjunct political scientist at the RAND Corporation, Song’s choice of language is the “harshest seen in a while” between Pyongyang and Tokyo.
That, Aoki told NK News, is “part of North Korea’s ongoing attempt to drive a wedge into the U.S.-Japan alliance.”
“Japan is threatened by North Korea’s shorter-range missiles, but President Trump has indicated that he is not terribly concerned about those types of missiles,” she said.
Hours after Song’s statement was published in KCNA, Navy Rear Admiral William D. Byrne, Jr., confirmed to reporters at the Pentagon that an annual training exercise scheduled for next week with the South Korean air force called “Vigilant Ace” — one of a handful of military drills between Washington and its Pacific allies that Pyongyang has long wanted canceled — would be a “reduced scope” this year.
Last year, the Vigilant Ace drill was canceled altogether.
In addition to criticizing Prime Minister Abe’s geopolitical positions, Thursday’s statement from North Korea’s Song also criticized the Japanese leader’s supposed misunderstanding of the nuances of North Korea’s weapons systems.
“Abe is also a rarely ignorant man who dreams of making Japan a military power, failing to distinguish between multiple rocket launchers and missiles,” Song said, calling Abe an “under-wit, as he is only able to say such crude words as ‘provocation’, ‘outrage,’ ‘violation,’ ‘abduction,’ and ‘pressure.'”
One missile expert told NK News that Pyongyang’s spin — that the MLRS is purely defensive, and therefore irrelevant to sanctions — may be a stretch.
“The phrase ‘MLRS’ does not contain the phrase ‘ballistic missile,’ and a lot of people have been really pedantic about that,” said Ankit Panda, an adjunct senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists and contributor to NK News’s sister site NK Pro.
But Panda added that few countries have MLRS systems as large as North Korea’s. A weapon like that, he said, is “at least part of the spirit” of what the sanctions are designed to do.
“The Japanese government would seem to agree with me,” he said.
Sung-yoon Lee, a professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, told NK News that Song’s diatribe against the Japanese Prime Minister is likely part of an effort to extract concessions from the U.S. and its allies.
“I see North Korea’s racist rant less as a vile expression of displeasure or grievances and more as a calculated ‘fundraiser’ — a sophisticated scheme in the Kim Jong Un regime’s ‘weaponization of its weirdness’ — a psychological stratagem that seeks to deceive the U.S. and its allies that the Kim regime is brittle, disgruntled, half-crazy, and ready to lash out unless the other side makes more concessions,” Lee said.
“That the latest invective against Abe is attribute to a senior foreign ministry official suggests North Korea seeks to send a stern message to Tokyo and, by extension, Washington,” Lee said.
“What kind of message? ‘Our patience is running thin and we are crazy enough to make your life really miserable. Now, pay up.'”
Featured image: Wikimedia Commons