Kim Yo Jong’s official title is vice department director of the Central Committee of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party. But South Korea’s spy agency says she is the North’s second-most powerful person after her brother and handles relations with South Korea and the United States.
While it’s not the first time Kim Yo Jong has used crude invectives toward South Korea, North Korea is expected to further escalate military tensions on the Korean Peninsula given that she’s in charge of relations with South Korea and wields some influences on the North’s military, said analyst Cheong Seong-Chang at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea.
South Korea quickly shot back at Kim Yo Jong’s insults of Yoon, saying it’s “very deplorable for her to denounce our head of state with rough, substandard words and show no basic forms of etiquette.” Seoul’s Unification Ministry said in a statement that it strongly condemns what it called “her impure attempt to incite antigovernment struggles and shake our system” in South Korea.
Last month, South Korea imposed its own sanctions on 15 North Korean individuals and 16 organizations suspected of involvement in illicit activities to finance North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs. They were Seoul's first unilateral sanctions on North Korea in five years, but experts say they were largely symbolic because the two Koreas have few financial dealings between them.
But observers say Seoul’s push to coordinate with the United States and others to crack down on North Korea’s alleged illicit cyberactivities could anger North Korea and damage its financing of its weapons programs. Earlier this year, a panel of U.N. experts said in a report that North Korea was stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from financial institutions and cryptocurrency firms and exchanges.
North Korea has been under 11 rounds of United Nations sanctions imposed over its nuclear and missile tests since 2006. But the U.N. Security Council has failed to adopt new sanctions against North Korea over its run of banned ballistic missile launches this year because of the opposition of China and Russia, two veto-wielding members of the council that are locked in confrontations with the United States.
South Korea's Foreign Ministry said Thursday that North Korea is turning to cybercrime and covert ship-to-ship transfers of unauthorized goods as a way to evade those U.N. sanctions. Spokesperson Lim Soosuk said Kim Yo Jong’s strong reaction to the South's review of possible unilateral sanctions proves that North Korea cares deeply about such steps. He said South Korea will consider having North Korea face consequences for the illicit ship-to-ship transfers if it conducts a nuclear test, which would be its first in five years.
North Korea has repeatedly said the U.N. sanctions, along with regular American military drills with South Korea, are proof of U.S. hostility toward the North. U.S.-led diplomacy over North Korea’s nuclear program collapsed in early 2019 due to differences over how much sanctions relief North Korea should receive in return for limited denuclearization steps.
Kim Yo Jong warned Tuesday that the United States would face “a more fatal security crisis” as it pushes for U.N. condemnation of the North’s recent test of an intercontinental ballistic missile potentially capable of striking all of the mainland U.S. She compared the United States to “a barking dog seized with fear.”
North Korea is notorious for colorful, crude personal attacks on South Korean and U.S. leaders. It called previous South Korean Presidents Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye “a rat” and “a prostitute” respectively, while describing former U.S. President Donald Trump as “a mentally deranged U.S. dotard.” In March 2021 when Moon was still in office, Kim Yo Jong called him “a parrot raised by America.”