It's just over a week until the 70th anniversary of the North Korean Workers' Party on October 10, and it's thought the reclusive Asian country may celebrate by launching a satellite — or possibly a long-range missile.
"We will go ahead. We have nothing to be afraid of," Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) ambassador to the UK Hyon Hak-bong said on Wednesday, referring to a satellite launch that is planned for sometime soon, despite the ever-present threat of sanctions. "We will go ahead, definitely, surely. If they pass the resolution or sanctions, this is another provocation. It will make the situation worse… they wouldn't use any such sanctions against other countries."
Countries including Japan, the United States, and South Korea have expressed concern that Pyongyang's supposed satellite launches are a cover for missile tests, and are a key part of North Korea's nuclear weapon program.
Hyon did not address the allegations directly, saying only: "Launching a satellite is the work performed by every country. It is the right of a sovereign state to develop a space program. Our launching of a satellite is for a peaceful purpose. We are prepared to launch any time, any place, at all locations."
He pointed out that many other countries — including South Korea — had satellites. "Why only DPRK is a problem?"
The ambassador spoke during a rare appearance at central London think-tank Chatham House during an event titled: "A DPRK Perspective on the Situation in the Korean Peninsula." He used his lengthy address to the crowd as a chance to berate the US for their behavior in South Korea, while calling for an end to the two's countries' joint military exercises, and reiterating North Korea's nuclear capabilities.
When asked whether North Korea would ever strike first with nuclear weapons, Hyon dodged the question. "We said that we are prepared to cope with nuclear war. We are prepared. We are prepared." The ambassador continued: "We are not as aggressive as described by the mass media in Western countries. We are prepared. We are prepared. You know what I mean, right?"
Hyon railed against the US for "trying to mislead the world's opinion" and criticized the use of "cut and dry logic, calling the black as the white."
He said that there was unlikely to be any progress towards peace in the region until US military exercises in South Korea were stopped, and labeled them "the most clear expression of the direct interference in internal affairs of the Korean peninsula," accusing the US of interfering in reconciliation attempts.
"Let me say we are not against the military exercises in general. Every country does do military exercises. But what we make an issue is joint military exercises targeting DPR Korea, openly saying this is for targeting Pyongyang, this is for toppling your government."
"The future of northeast Asia is dependent on the reunification of Korea," he added. "[The] Korean peninsula is at the crossroads of reunification or nuclear division."
Any new war would be calamitious to an extent that had not been seen in the world before, the ambassador warned.
"Sixty years ago the DPRK stood against the US with rifles." Now, he said the country's military capabilities have hugely expanded. "It is a new reality that the DPRK is prepared to counter any kind of war from the US — conventional war by conventional war and nuclear war by nuclear war," he said.
"Of course DPR Korea does not want war," the ambassador said, restating: "Everybody is afraid there could be a war." However, "the people of DPR Korea are fully ready to face a new war if a war is forced upon [them]," he said.
Hyon also addressed the August escalation in tension.
Smiling when asked whether his country had engaged in "extremely provocative behaviour," Hyon denied recent charges against his government.
In August, two South Korean soldiers were maimed by a landmine while patrolling near the border. Their government blamed North Korea for laying bombs on the southern side of the demarcation line. North Korea has steadily denied involvement. "We said we are not the army to play such a dirty game," Hyon said.
"The wounding of South Korean soldiers while the world is watching… that is senseless. That is why we said it is not our work." Hyon said his country had asked for South Korea to examine the surveillance cameras watching the area, but the South had refused.
He continued: "We are being provoked, we are not provoking."
Hyon said the reason North Korea had not signed up to the international Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) — making it one of only four United Nations countries still not to do so — was its "bad experience" of joining the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). "We thought the US would fulfil their obligation as a nuclear state, which is not threatening the DPRK by nukes," he said, but it had instead proceeded with aggression. "US should stop hostile policy. They should stop nuclear threat."
"Our government policy is to concentrate on developing the national economy and improving the people's living standards… let us concentrate on building the national economy," Hyon appealed, before accusing "the hostile forces who do not like the DPRK" of attempting to exhaust the North Korean leadership. "They want to waste our energy, they want to distract our strength by diverting our attention to the military."
The UK's North Korean embassy is located in a detached corner house on Gunnersbury Avenue, in the west London suburb of Ealing. Last November, it opened its doors to the public for an art exhibition. Months before that, embassy officials reportedly visited a neighborhood hairdresser to complain about a poster of Kim Jong-un in its window.
When asked whether the UK should be concerned that long-range nuclear missiles could target them, Hyon again avoided answering directly, saying that it was necessary for UK residents to consider why North Korea pursues its songun — or "military first" — policy, which guides resources towards the army and prioritizes military capabilities above all else. "If the UK was in the situation of the DPRK now I think the UK would pursue the policy of military first," Hyon said. "We want to be [in the position of the] UK which is not being threatened by the others."
In a question-and-answer session after his address, Hyon was also asked how he feels about new Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is outspoken about his opposition to the UK's nuclear weapons.
"I respect the will of the people, he said, adding that "it is not appropriate for ambassador" to comment on this British matter.
"But in private I can," Hyon laughed.
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