North Korea is on a rampage, committing war-like actions and lobbing verbal threats against South Korea. In an act of pique, after issuing a warning, NK blew up the Inter-Korean Liaison office in the border town of Kaesong between the north and south. As reported in Liberty Nation, North Korea has the nuclear capability to continue to pose a threat to Pyongyang’s neighbors, and the demonstrated long-range missile capability has the potential to endanger the United States. Furthermore, hopes of future détente between the Kim regime, South Korea, and the West would appear in jeopardy.
Pronouncements from North Korea’s leadership do not hold much promise for reconciliation anytime soon. The Japan Times explains that Kim Yo-jong, the younger sister of Kim Jong-un, has stepped more into the limelight with intensely hostile rhetoric. She has threatened her southern neighbor by issuing a public statement, claiming that “it was ‘high time’ to break ties with South Korea.”
The harsh words directed at the south by sister Kim further strengthen the belief that she is growing in power and influence. In the Liberty Nation article “Does NK’s Balance of Power Shift with Kim’s Health,” Kim Yo-jong, the second most powerful person in the family line, is portrayed as being “recently reinstated in the North Korean Politburo and ‘has been a visible presence throughout the regime’s high-stakes diplomatic process with Washington and Seoul.'”
The explosion that demolished the joint liaison office could be seen from some distance. Video of the building being blown up accompanies a report from The Japan Times that explains that North Korea’s actions were probably “designed to draw maximum global attention with little immediate risk of war.” In your public speaking class, this is known as “an attention-getting” step. No one was reported injured. The building had been closed in January in response to the Wuhan Coronavirus.
UPI correspondent Thomas Maresca wrote that South Korean leaders expressed “strong regret” over the destruction of the liaison office in an announcement following an emergency meeting of Seoul’s National Security Council. The government placed responsibility for any repercussions squarely in Pyongyang. Maresca said South Korea was “calling the destruction ‘a violation of the expectations of all who wish to develop inter-Korean relations,’ while the government said that the,’ responsibility for the incidents arising from it lies entirely with the North.'”
According to the Yonhap News Agency, “The North has been lashing out at the South almost daily for failing to stop defectors from sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border via balloons. Pyongyang has vowed to deal with South Korea as an ‘enemy,’ cutting off all cross-border communication lines and threatened to take other measures, including military action.” The North-South joint liaison’s destruction effectively sent the message that the North was cutting off all communications.
The Japan Times added, “North Korea is working toward re-militarization of the Kaesong industrial complex, and blowing up the liaison office in the complex would just be the first step in their road map.”
Additionally, North Korea announced that its leadership was evaluating whether or not to send troops into the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) with no details as to where along the border that might be. The 1953 agreement between North Korea, China, and the United Nations created the strip of land 2.5 miles wide and 160 miles long that separates North and South Korea. No military forces from either side were to be in that border area, and moving forces into the DMZ would be a major escalation of the existing tensions. Though there have yet to be unanticipated North Korean troop movements detected on the border, the South Korean military has the DMZ under close surveillance.
But with North Korea, nothing is what it seems. Analysis by BBC correspondent Laura Bicker suggests that Kim’s action was more of a diversion since, as Bicker points out, “Kim Jong-un has failed to bring economic prosperity to his people, and strict international sanctions remain in place. There are also persistent rumors that Covid-19 has affected rural parts of the country. Giving North Koreans a mutual enemy may help focus their attention elsewhere.”
The United States, according to Reuters, engaged China in discussions this week when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with China’s senior diplomat Yang Jiechi and North Korea was on the agenda. So far, the State Department has not released the outcome of those discussions.
Beijing is North Korea’s leading trading partner and typically can be expected to exert some influence over the Kim regime. Still, up to this point, the Peoples’ Republic of China does not appear to be engaged.
North Korea’s behavior is not helpful. The United States, its Indo-Pacific allies, and the West have been here before under more severe circumstances. The 2010 sinking of a South Korean Pohang-class corvette, the Cheonan, which killed 46 seamen, was a far more provocative and hostile act by North Korea. Saving any more aggressive actions by North Korea, the U.S., South Korea, and its neighbors will weather this storm as well. The consequence of not calming these waters is just too immense.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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