Pyongyang has vowed to send troops back into previously disarmed areas and renew military drills near the border, amid an ongoing spat with Seoul over defectors, inflamed further by the recent demolition of a negotiations outpost.
North Korea will reestablish a troop presence in the Mount Kumgang and Kaesong regions – which both fall just beyond the Demilitarized Zone along the border – and resume “all kinds of regular military exercises,” the Korean People’s Army said on Wednesday, according to Yonhap News.
North Korea to send troops to border after tensions with South Korea soar
Mount Kumgang, a resort on North Korea’s east coast, as well as the Kaesong industrial zone were the two major bilateral economic projects that once served as symbols of rapprochement and cooperation between Seoul and Pyongyang.
— Modicks Ayiro (@Modicks_) June 17, 2020
That thaw seems to be over now, as tensions have soared between the two Koreas in recent weeks, kicked off by complaints from the North that Seoul was not doing enough to stop defectors from sending leaflets and other anti-government literature across the border, often on balloons.
Seoul has reportedly proposed to send a special envoy to tamp down on tensions, but Pyongyang “flatly” rejected the offer.
After threatening to sever all lines of communication with the South earlier this month, on Tuesday Pyongyang destroyed an office building dedicated to talks between the two sides, with the demolition captured on video.
North Korea destroys liaison office with South Korea in Pyongyang
Based in the Kaesong border area, the office was established in 2018 following several rounds of inter-Korean talks, which also produced a military agreement establishing disarmed buffer zones. While the North labeled the office “useless” and vacated its staff in 2019 following a separate dispute, the latest bout of hostilities has seen the facility shuttered for good, with Pyongyang further vowing to scrap the 2018 military agreement.
North Korea blew up an inter-Korean liaison office on its side of the border on Tuesday, after days of increasingly virulent rhetoric from Pyongyang.
The demolition came after Kim Yo Jong — the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — said at the weekend the “useless north-south joint liaison office” would soon be seen “completely collapsed”.
South Korean television pictures showed smoke rising from a long-shuttered industrial zone just across the border in Kaesong, where the office was set up less than two years ago.
Stills show the liaison office between North and South Korea in #Kaesong being blown up on Tuesday. The demolition of the empty building is largely seen as symbolic in the deteriorating relations. #NorthKorea pic.twitter.com/pS1cbBkmkA
— Ruptly (@Ruptly) June 17, 2020
Now, North Korea has vowed to send troops to its border with South Korea, showing the severity of the deterioration of ties between the two countries.
North severing relations with South as part of a strategy?
North Korea’s spectacular destruction of its liaison office with the South is part of a series of staged provocations aimed at forcing concessions from Seoul and Washington, analysts say.
The South’s President Moon Jae-in initially brokered a dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington, but the North now blames him for not persuading the US to relax sanctions.
Inter-Korean relations have been in deep freeze for months, following the collapse of a summit in Hanoi between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump.
That meeting foundered on what the nuclear-armed North would be willing to give up in exchange for a loosening of sanctions.
“Internally, North Korea is deeply disappointed in Moon and appears determined to end inter-Korean ties,” said Kim Keun-sik, professor of political science at Kyungnam University.
“By doing so, it is sending a message in its brinkmanship tactics to Trump that he should resume talks or lift economic sanctions as it has demanded so long.”
Ostensibly, this month’s developments have been triggered by anti-Pyongyang leaflets sent by defectors, but that is a longstanding practice.
“This is a staged provocation cycle rather than a one-off response,” said North Korea specialist Leif-Eric Easley of Ewha University.
“Pyongyang is damaging inter-Korean relations to ratchet up pressure in search of international concessions,” he added. “The decision to pressure Seoul is a strategy, not a tactic.”
Pressure on the US
The US could be next in North Korea’s sights: Pyongyang has warned Washington to stay out of inter-Korean affairs if it wants to ensure a smooth presidential election in November.
“The North is sending a message to the US that it could do something similarly provocative and dramatic in terms of US-North relations if Washington keeps its approach as before,” said Hong Min, director of the North Korean division at the Korea Institute for National Unification.
But such a move would be fraught with risk for Pyongyang.
US President Donald Trump — who faces an increasingly difficult fight in the light of the coronavirus epidemic — has long portrayed North Korea as a diplomatic success.
He has also made clear that he would consider another nuclear test or ICBM launch a red line. During the tensions of 2017 his threats of “fire and fury” caused genuine alarm in the North.
“The North should realise its brinkmanship tactic will not work this time, neither with Washington nor Seoul”, said Kyungnam’s Kim.
“If it needs a change in status quo so desperately, then it must change its calculations instead of expecting the US to do so.”
RT with additional input by GVS News Desk
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