North Korea's ambassador to China warned South Korea and the United States Wednesday against upcoming joint military drills on the peninsula.
In a rare news briefing in Beijing, Ambassador Ji Jae Ryong told selected journalists that Pyongyang is committed to denuclearization. But he said the North wants South Korea and the United States to compromise on the annual drills, which last year sparked heightened tensions and threats of nuclear war from Pyongyang.
“This time, we once again suggest that South Korea stop immediately without questions, all hostile military actions with foreign powers which opposes people of their same nationality,” Ji said. “Facing this, I pointed out that South Korea should make up their political mind to stop so-called defensive annual joint-military exercises such as the Key Resolve and Foal Eagles [drills] starting from the end of February."
Washington and Seoul have said the drills, which are one of the largest such military exercises conducted each year, will go forward.
The North routinely denounces the annual drills that occur around March as a prelude to an invasion. Seoul and Washington say they are primarily focused on honing defensive capabilities.
Lu Chao, director of the North and South Korea research center at China's Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, said Wednesday's news briefing was a way for North Korea to amplify its warning over the drills.
“Statements by the National Defense Commission carry much authority within North Korea,” Lu said. “At the moment, the South has not responded positively to the proposal, and that is why the North is increasing publicity on it.”
The North frequently issues public statements that mix threats with more conciliatory gestures, making it difficult to discern whether Pyongyang is ratcheting up tensions. Lu said Wednesday’s briefing was no exception.
“Just looking at one statement is difficult to tell what measures North Korea will take in the future, and whether it will carry on provocative actions against the South.”
Last year, in a sequence of events that analysts say highlighted the unpredictable nature of the North's regime, leader Kim Jong Un made appeasing comments about wanting to improve relations with the South but shortly afterward he ordered a nuclear test in defiance of U.N. resolutions.
South Korea was more upfront in advocating for its right to hold drills, and said it will continue the military exchange as long as the North continues to develop nuclear arms.
Ambassador Ji also said the North agrees to restarting the six party talks, a series of multilateral negotiations aimed at resolving tensions in the peninsula.
The talks stalled in 2009, after the North had already agreed to abandon all nuclear weapons and nuclear programs in exchange for aid and security guarantees.
As a precondition for resuming negotiations, the United States has asked that Pyongyang take verifiable steps to dismantle its nuclear program. So far, the North has refused.