SEOUL: Military tensions between North and South Korea rose Wednesday as the two sides engaged in a war of words over Pyongyang’s detonation of an inter-Korean liaison office a day earlier.
South Korea’s presidential office, the Blue House, condemned the “senseless and rude” demolition of the building.
“It is a senseless act to disparage (the South Korean leadership) in a very rude tone without understanding its purpose at all,” Yoon Do-han, senior presidential secretary of public communications, told reporters on Wednesday.
He referred to President Moon Jae-in’s recent speech to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the June 15 Inter-Korean Joint Declaration, adopted at the end of the historic first cross-border summit in 2000 between the former leaders of the two Koreas.
The statement was issued after an emergency meeting of the presidential National Security Council that was led by the National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong.
Hours earlier Kim Yo-jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, launched a verbal assault on Moon, saying the South Korean head of state had “put his neck into the noose of pro-US flunkeyism.”
She also claimed Moon had “begged” to send a special envoy to the North, but that the offer was immediately rejected.
In a separate comment carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency, the military vowed to send troops into two symbols of past Korean economic cooperation: Gaeseong Industrial Complex and Mt. Geumgang tourist zone, both of which have been shut for years in the wake of continued threats from the North, including nuclear tests.
The South-North military agreement to ease tensions is also to be nullified, it said, if the South failed to take steps to stop leaflet campaigns.
The South’s military hit back, warning that the North would “pay the price” if it took any military action.
“If the North actually makes such a move, it will certainly pay the price for it,” Lt. Gen. Jeon Dong-jin, director of operations at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a briefing on Wednesday.
The three-star general said his military was monitoring the North’s moves around-the-clock while maintaining a strong defense posture.
Pundits believe the North is under pressure due to its economic problems, mainly due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has hampered trade with China.
“One thing is certain. North Korea faces serious economic difficulties now as the border with China has been shut down following the spread of the COVID-19 earlier this year,” Park Won-kon, a professor of international relations at Handong University in Pohang, said. “So the North would be trying its best to seek internal solidarity amid mounting economic hardship by doing hostile acts against the South.”
Prof. Kim Dong-yub, an analyst from Seoul’s Institute of Far Eastern Studies, said he was concerned that the North would now take military actions “as planned,” including a naval skirmish in the waters off the west coast.
“As the North’s military has made a public warning to break off the military tension-reducing deal, they will take any action, for sure,” the professor said, adding that military conflicts near the sea border were “most worrying.”