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Sunday, October 1, 2023

Inter-Korean war halted as Kim abandons military plans

Having successfully manufactured a crisis as predicted by many analysts, North Korea has decided to abandon military plans against the South. It remains to be seen the concessions they can get from South Korea.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has suspended plans for military action against the South, state media reported Wednesday in an apparent sudden dialling-down of tensions after Pyongyang blew up a liaison office. With this development, an Inter-Korean war has been halted, at least for the time being.

In recent weeks, Pyongyang has issued a series of vitriolic condemnations of Seoul over anti-North leaflets, which defectors based in the South send across the border — usually attached to balloons or floated in bottles.

Inter-Korean war halted despite prior escalation

Last week it blew up a liaison office on its side of the border that symbolised inter-Korean rapprochement, while its military said it would take multiple measures against the South.

The liaison office that Pyongyang blew up on was opened in September 2018 as part of an agreement the North’s leader Kim Jong Un and the South’s President Moon Jae-in signed at their first summit five months earlier.

The office occupied a four-storey building in an industrial zone in the North’s city of Kaesong, where companies from South Korea employed Northerners, paying Pyongyang for their labour.

Read more: North Korea all geared up for balloon attack against South

It was the first permanent physical communication centre for the two sides, with personnel from North and South staying at the compound to enable face-to-face contact at any time

The moves included re-entering areas of the North that it had withdrawn from as part of inter-Korean projects, restoring guard posts in the Demilitarized Zone that forms the border, and stepping up exercises.

But the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said Kim on Tuesday presided over a Central Military Commission meeting that “suspended the military action plans against the south”.

It did not elaborate.

The North also began removing loudspeakers on Wednesday from border areas, which they had started setting up just two days ago to broadcast anti-South propaganda, the South’s Yonhap news agency reported, citing unnamed sources.

Unusual conciliatory moves by Pyongyang as relations thaw 

The apparently conciliatory moves by Pyongyang are unusual, and come after analysts said it was seeking to manufacture a crisis on the peninsula in an effort to extract concessions. This latest development does much to assuage fears as a probable Inter-Korean war has been halted, for now.

Seoul had retorted with uncharacteristically stern criticism to Pyongyang’s blowing-up of the liaison office and harsh condemnation of President Moon Jae-in by Kim’s sister Kim Yo Jong, saying it will “no longer tolerate” the North’s “unreasonable acts and words”.

Read more: Korean liaison office destroyed by North Korea amid rising tensions with South

But the nuclear-armed North “is by no means done threatening South Korea or bolstering its so-called deterrent”, Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said.

“The Kim regime had domestic political boxes to check and may be presently satisfied with public unity.”

Inter-Korean war halted, but relations are still in the gutter

Inter-Korean relations have been in a deep freeze following the collapse of a summit in Hanoi between Kim and US President Donald Trump early last year over what the nuclear-armed North would be willing to give up in exchange for a loosening of sanctions.

The impoverished country is subject to multiple UN Security Council sanctions over its banned weapons programmes.

Since early June, Kim Yo Jong has been the face of Pyongyang’s highly aggressive stance toward the South over anti-North leaflets.

Read more: Korea military deal in danger as North Korea threatens withdrawal

The North blew up the liaison office after she warned days before that it would soon be seen “completely collapsed”, and later she called the South’s Moon — who has long favoured  engagement with Pyongyang — “disgusting” and apparently “insane”.

Pyongyang has also said it has millions of anti-Seoul propaganda leaflets ready to send to the South as retaliation.

“Having someone else speak for the regime also gives Kim Jong Un the option of adjusting course,” said Easley.

“He may do so in search of external concessions or because his military needs more time to implement the next provocation.”

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk

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