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N. Korea Criticizes U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan


Korea, Today and Tomorrow

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The U.S. completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan at 11:59 p.m. on August 30, local time, just one minute before the August 31 deadline. The U.S. war in Afghanistan was triggered by the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. At the time, Afghanistan was under the control of the Taliban. The Taliban refused to accept Washington’s demand that they hand over Osama bin Laden, who had allegedly planned the attacks on America, to the U.S. The U.S. and its allies then invaded Afghanistan. Afterwards, the U.S. ousted the Taliban and killed bin Laden in 2011. Still, the war continued. Last year, former U.S. President Donald Trump agreed with the Taliban that the U.S. would withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. 

In line with the agreement, current U.S. President Joe Biden made a decision to order all U.S. forces out of Afghanistan, bringing an end to the 20-year war. Here is political commentator Choi Young-il with more. 

After the U.S. pulled all its troops out of Afghanistan, Taliban fighters immediately entered the presidential palace in Kabul and took control of the country. Initially, the U.S. predicted that the Afghan government would last until the end of the year. But the predictions turned out to be way off the mark. The entire world was stunned to see how rapidly the Afghan government collapsed with so many Afghans swarming to Kabul’s international airport in desperate attempts to get out of the Taliban-led country. Locals continue to escape from the country. Europe is reluctant to accept Afghan refugees and it is uncertain how many Afghans will flee from their home country in the future. Many argue that the Biden administration should bear the responsibility for the situation unfolding in Afghanistan, as the U.S. has fought there for two decades. 

North Korea has launched criticism against the U.S. again, this time over the Afghan issue. Calling the U.S. a destroyer of world peace and stability, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry displayed multiple posts critical of the U.S. on September 5. Apparently, the North is stepping up its pressure on the U.S. using the human rights issue. 

A report about the North Korean human rights issue has been issued annually to illustrate how dire the situation is, how undemocratic and dictatorial the North Korean regime is and how local citizens are treated after criticizing the Kim Jong-un regime. Of course, North Korea is highly sensitive about international criticism of its human rights violations. 

In the wake of the Afghan incident, the international community denounces the U.S. in light of human rights concerns. This is a great opportunity for North Korea to counterattack. By bringing up the human rights issue involving the U.S. preemptively, the North is condemning the U.S. 

So, why did North Korea point out the human rights issue concerning the U.S.? Perhaps, it is urging the U.S. to change its attitude and accept preconditions set by the North for their nuclear negotiations. 

Countries in hostile relations with the U.S. blame the U.S. for the crisis in Afghanistan and mention the human rights issue. North Korea is moving fast to join them. It might feel pleased to attack the U.S. with no other than the human rights issue, but it has nothing to gain practically by doing so. By using this issue, North Korea may want to create a communication channel with the U.S. Also, it wants to tell the U.S. that North Korea is different from Afghanistan and the U.S. cannot deal with the North in the same way it handled Afghanistan. Pyongyang probably wants to say that it is a nuclear weapons state and it is far more powerful than Afghanistan, so the U.S. should negotiate with the North on an equal footing. 

North Korea’s recent anti-U.S. rhetoric is a bit different from its typical criticism of the U.S. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson. Meanwhile, foreign ministers of Cuba, Syria and Iran have denounced the U.S. over the Afghan situation. The Foreign Ministry in Pyongyang has introduced those denouncements one after another, saying that there is growing international criticism of the U.S.  That is, North Korea is indirectly criticizing the U.S. by delivering the messages of other countries. 

North Korea is infamous for its strident rhetoric against the U.S.  It argues that the U.S. should drop its hostile policy toward the North and it is developing nuclear weapons to protect itself from the U.S.  

But this is North Korea’s subjective view, which the international community does not agree on. But now, a number of countries are blaming the U.S. for the hardships of Afghan refugees. By joining the move, North Korea seeks to justify its own criticism of the U.S. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Defense says that it will turn its eyes from Afghanistan to China and the Indo-Pacific region. In a speech on the U.S. exit from Afghanistan, Biden stressed that the U.S. should meet new challenges such as a serious competition with China, nuclear proliferation and cyber attacks. He cited the strategic competition with China, in particular, as the topmost task in the post-Afghan era. 

After ending its war in Afghanistan, the U.S. will seek to hold China in check and become a dominant world power. But China, under the leadership of Xi Jinping, has an ambitious goal of surpassing the U.S. economically after 2030. The two countries are in a fierce tug-of-war on the military front as well. The Biden administration will put a great deal of effort into controlling China effectively. The international community is growing anxious about how to create a new order amid the escalating U.S.-China conflict. 

Now that the U.S. troops have all left Afghanistan, a more intense U.S.-China rivalry is anticipated. Attention turns to how the end of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan may influence its relations with North Korea, inter-Korean ties as well as diplomacy surrounding the Korean Peninsula. 

Analysts do not believe that the U.S. is considering withdrawing its troops from South Korea, which is its longtime ally. They don’t think what happened in Afghanistan will occur in South Korea, as the Korean Peninsula is a strategically important region to keep China in check. 

North Korea expects that the U.S. will focus more on the security situation in Northeast Asia after leaving the Middle East and turn its eyes to nuclear negotiations with the North. But judging from Washington’s current attitude, the U.S. is unlikely to accept North Korea’s demand easily. It remains to be seen whether a crucial turning point may come in North Korea-U.S. relations in the post-Afghan era.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will visit South Korea next week to hold a meeting with his South Korean counterpart. During the meeting, the two countries are expected to discuss various pending issues, including bilateral cooperation and regional diplomacy, ahead of the 30th anniversary of their diplomatic ties next year. 

While the Biden government is focusing on the strategic competition with China after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, China seems to be taking its own action by managing relations with South Korea. Attention is also drawn to whether and how China will play a mediating role in facilitating inter-Korean relations, which remain at a standstill. 

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