By Byun Duk-kun
WASHINGTON, Jan. 12 (Yonhap) -- North Korea is widely expected to continue its provocations this year, presenting a very serious challenge for the entire international community, South Korea's ambassador to the United States Cho Tae-yong said Thursday.
Cho said part of the reason for North Korea's continued provocations may be because leader Kim Jong-un is not happy with his "utter failure" in developing the North Korean economy.
"I cannot see positive things coming out of North Korea in any case," the South Korean diplomat declared when asked what to expect from North Korea in 2023.
"And we all know that Kim Jong-un is not a happy man these days because North Korea's economy (has been) always bad over the years, but really (is) in shambles these days," added Cho.
The South Korean ambassador was speaking at a seminar hosted by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, which was also attended by Kurt Campbell, National Security Council coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs.
Pyongyang fired a new annual record of 69 ballistic missiles in 2022, compared with a very "distant second" of 25 set a few years ago, according to Cho.
The South Korean ambassador also explained that North Korea's external trade has dwindled to only about 5 percent last year from its peak years in 2011 and 2012, despite Kim's promise to deliver nuclear weapons and economic development to his people.
"He delivered to some extent on his promise to give a nuclear capability to North Korean people. But it was an utter failure for him in terms of delivering economic development to the North Korean people," said Cho.
"So this is a very important challenge for South Korea, for Indo-Pacific countries (and) the whole international community," he added.
Campbell highlighted the importance of close cooperation between like-minded countries to deal with threats posed by North Korea and other global challenges.
"It will be important for our countries to work together on initiatives that respond to the daily needs and challenges of the people from climate change to food insecurity more generally," Campbell told the meeting.
On a similar note, Campbell praised Japan for consulting closely with the U.S. before releasing its new national security and national defense strategies late last year that call for Tokyo to double its annual defense spending to two percent of its gross domestic product.
"When countries sometimes set off on these journeys, they go alone. Not Japan. They have done this in the deepest possible consultation with the United States over months of painstaking discussions," he said.
"I will also say that Japan has consulted very broadly and widely not just with, you know, political folks or strategists here, but across the region as a whole," he added.
Campbell also reaffirmed the U.S.' support for Japan's new national strategies that also call for the country to acquire what it calls "counter strike capabilities."
"I think there is an understanding that the environment around Japan has really changed for the worst for over the course of the last several years," Campbell said, citing North Korean provocations.
"We are confronting a North Korea that continues provocative steps, appears, at this time, disinterested in diplomacy, not only with the United States, but South Korea and Japan, and is on a very provocative path," he added.
The White House official noted there existed "some frustration" when asked about U.S. policy on North Korea due to Pyongyang's disregard for dialogue, but said the U.S., as well as its South Korean and Japanese allies, continue to remain committed to diplomacy.
"I think there is probably some frustration because many of the strategies that we have tried with respect to reaching out, providing opportunities for venues for engagement have generally been ignored," said Campbell.
"I think the hope will be at some point they will get off this path. But I can't tell you that we see any signs of this at this juncture," he added.