N. Korea’s threats aimed at testing S. Korea-U.S. alliance: ex-U.S. official

June 15, 2020

North Korea’s recent threats against South Korea appear aimed at testing the South Korea-U.S. alliance and opening up more gaps between the allies, a former senior U.S. official said Monday.

North Korea has ratcheted up tensions on the Korean Peninsula with a series of threats to cut off all inter-Korean communication lines and even take military action over activists’ flying of anti-Pyongyang leaflets into the North.

“I think, to some extent, what we’ve seen from North Korea in the last couple of weeks, which appears to be very much directed at the ROK and directed at the Moon (Jae-in) administration, is really directed in an effort to see how far the U.S. and the ROK are in terms of how far apart are they, and I think it’s kind of a testing of the alliance,” Christopher Hill, former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said during a virtual seminar hosted by the International Crisis Group, referring to South Korea by the acronym for its official name, the Republic of Korea.

“And so far we’re doing very poorly, because of President Trump’s obsession with this issue of host nation support for our military,” he added, referring to U.S. President Donald Trump’s demands for a significant increase in Seoul’s contributions to the upkeep of 28,500 American troops stationed in South Korea.

Hill, who also previously served as chief U.S. envoy to six-party nuclear talks with North Korea, expressed skepticism that North Korea will go ahead with its threat of military action against South Korea.

“I really do believe that what they’re doing is more political in trying to humiliate the South Korean government, and they’re trying to sort of open up more gaps between the ROK and the U.S.,” he said.

A North Korean provocation at this time would not only hurt the North’s apparent wish to see Trump reelected but also damage its ties with China, Hill said.

This file photo shows Christopher Hill, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. (Yonhap)

This file photo shows Christopher Hill, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. (Yonhap)

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