Kim Jong-un threatens to use nuclear weapons amid US-South Korean tensions

Kim is seeking greater public support as his country’s economy has been battered by pandemic-related border shutdowns, US-led sanctions and his own mismanagement. North Korea also admitted to its first Covid outbreak in May, though the scale of illness and death is widely disputed in a country that lacks the modern medical capacity to handle it.

“Kim’s rhetoric inflates external threats to justify his militarily focused and economically struggling regime,” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said. “North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are in violation of international law, but Kim tries to depict his destabilising arms buildup as a righteous effort at self-defence.”

North Korea has rejected US and South Korean offers to resume talks, saying its rivals must first abandon its hostile polices on the North in an apparent reference to US-led sanctions and US-South Korean military drills.

South Korea’s Defence Ministry said last week that this year’s summertime military drills with the United States would involve field training for the first time since 2018 along with the existing computer-simulated tabletop exercises.

In recent years, the South Korean and US militaries have cancelled or downsized some of their regular exercises due to concerns about Covid and to support now-stalled US-led diplomacy aimed at convincing North Korea to give up its nuclear program in return for economic and political benefits.

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