Kim Jong Un and Ri Yong Ho Speak



This week, I have cycled through the UN speeches of Prime Minister Abe (LINK) and President Moon Jae-in; Marc Noland gave a succinct takedown of President Trump’s monochromatic response to North Korea’s threats. This week, we have heard from both Kim Jong Un (see below, reproduced in full) and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Yong Ho. One of our main fears has proven true: if you wanted to hand North Korea a propaganda victory—and if they needed one—talking about destroying the country certainly serves the purpose.

Kim Jong Un’s statement—as Chairman of the State Affairs Commission, interestingly--combines hurt feelings (“President Trump has insulted me”!) and an extended taunt: (less than) a frightened dog, mentally deranged behavior, political layman, political heretic, dotard. But the key line, and the only thing you need to know about the speech is the following:

“His remarks which described the U.S. option through straightforward expression of his will have convinced me, rather than frightening or stopping me, that the path I chose is correct and that it is the one I have to follow to the last.”

A newly emergent line in all recent North Korean statements is that they are “completing” the “state nuclear force.” Believe it or not, this could be hopeful if the regime believes it can then triumphantly pause; that is the kind of break in the action that is sorely needed.

Joel Wit offers a useful portrait of Ri Yong Ho at the the Atlantic, as well as a proposal that Tillerson should have just met him; why not? As the Abe and Moon speeches are revealing of underlying worldviews, so the Ri Yong Ho speech (full text here) shows a curious feature of North Korea’s international posture: its commitment to legalism. Needless to say, this is ironic: a country in which constitutional restraints and rule of law mean nothing is punctilious in claiming its rights under international law. To be sure Ri gets in his own digs as well ("Commander in Grief, "Lyin King", "President Evil"). But the vast majority of the speech is devoted to how North Korea’s rights under international law have been unjustly violated.

  • The main claim is that it is the United States that has violated principles of justice—a repeated term—by going against Article I of the UN Charter. That foundational article calls on the body "to bring about by peaceful means and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace." The speech also includes in passing a recurrent claim that the UN is a direct party to the conflict, and cites the numerous occasions North Korea has sought to bring the joint US-ROK exercises to the UN Security Council. But the main point to be drawn from this portion of the speech is that the issues on the peninsula do not involve the South or other neighbors but are primarily an issue between the United States and North Korea. I know many well-meaning analysts believe that this is fundamentally correct: that Washington and Pyongyang have to ultimately resolve this. But I believe this view is fundamentally wrong-headed and that the North Korean problem should be treated as the fundamentally multilateral problem that it is. 
  • Of course, the main purpose of this legal line of attack is to justify North Korea’s nuclear weapons program as an assertion of a legitimate right to self-defense.
  • Another fascinating portion of the speech reminds the audience of the long-standing UNGA effort to reform the Security Council, launched by Resolution 47/62 of 1992. This line of attack is fascinating because it reflects Pyongyang’s particular pique at China. The argument: the UNSC reflects nothing but the “vested interests” of the P5.
  • These vested interests help explain UNSC actions that North Korea deems illegal: prohibiting its satellite launches, which violates its rights to the peaceful use of outer space; the prohibition on nuclear tests, since the treaty prohibiting such tests has not entered into force; the violation by the United States of Article 10 of the NPT, which allows states to withdraw from the treaty if their “supreme” national interests are threatened; and of course the sanctions rulings.
  • I am sure everyone missed this one, but Ri also claimed that the regime has set up a “national damage investigation committee” in order to assess the costs associated with the sanctions regime. You can see this one coming: reparations anyone?

The game here is pretty clear: pick and choose among the bits of international law that are convenient to your case, while violating the most fundamental ones; think of those that pertain to the rights of citizens, above all. We would all feel much more sympathy for North Korea’s claims if it were Switzerland. But that is exactly the point: it is not Switzerland. It is a dictatorship living in a parallel universe feeding off of its own toxic view of the world. All the more reason that the United States needs to stand in support of its international obligations as well. It is precisely for those reasons that I found President Trump’s speech most disturbing. On what grounds precisely does “American First” generate an international following?

Statement of Chairman of State Affairs Commission of DPRK

Pyongyang, September 22 (KCNA) -- Respected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the DPRK, released a statement on Thursday.

The full text of the statement reads:

The speech made by the U.S. president in his maiden address on the UN arena in the prevailing serious circumstances, in which the situation on the Korean peninsula has been rendered tense as never before and is inching closer to a touch-and-go state, is arousing worldwide concern.

Shaping the general idea of what he would say, I expected he would make stereo-typed, prepared remarks a little different from what he used to utter in his office on the spur of the moment as he had to speak on the world's biggest official diplomatic stage.

But, far from making remarks of any persuasive power that can be viewed to be helpful to defusing tension, he made unprecedented rude nonsense one has never heard from any of his predecessors.

A frightened dog barks louder.

I'd like to advise Trump to exercise prudence in selecting words and to be considerate of whom he speaks to when making a speech in front of the world.

The mentally deranged behavior of the U.S. president openly expressing on the UN arena the unethical will to "totally destroy" a sovereign state, beyond the boundary of threats of regime change or overturn of social system, makes even those with normal thinking faculty think about discretion and composure.

His remarks remind me of such words as "political layman" and "political heretic" which were in vogue in reference to Trump during his presidential election campaign.

After taking office Trump has rendered the world restless through threats and blackmail against all countries in the world. He is unfit to hold the prerogative of supreme command of a country, and he is surely a rogue and a gangster fond of playing with fire, rather than a politician.

His remarks which described the U.S. option through straightforward expression of his will have convinced me, rather than frightening or stopping me, that the path I chose is correct and that it is the one I have to follow to the last.

Now that Trump has denied the existence of and insulted me and my country in front of the eyes of the world and made the most ferocious declaration of a war in history that he would destroy the DPRK, we will consider with seriousness exercising of a corresponding, highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history.

Action is the best option in treating the dotard who, hard of hearing, is uttering only what he wants to say.

As a man representing the DPRK and on behalf of the dignity and honor of my state and people and on my own, I will make the man holding the prerogative of the supreme command in the U.S. pay dearly for his speech calling for totally destroying the DPRK.

This is not a rhetorical expression loved by Trump.

I am now thinking hard about what response he could have expected when he allowed such eccentric words to trip off his tongue.

Whatever Trump might have expected, he will face results beyond his expectation.

I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire. -0-

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