The North also said it will resume military exercises, reestablish guard posts and boost military readiness in border areas as well as open front-line sites for flying propaganda balloons toward South Korea. Those steps would reverse agreements reached between the Koreas in September 2018 aimed at lowering military tensions along the border.
South Korea’s military expressed regret over the North Korean announcement and warned that the North will face unspecified consequences if it violates the 2018 deals. Major General Jeon Dong-jin at the Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters that South Korea maintains military readiness and would strive to prevent military tensions from rising. Vice Unification Minister Suh Ho warned against destroying South Korean assets that remained at the two cooperation sites.
Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul, who oversees engagement with North Korea, earlier offered to step down, saying he takes responsibility for a worsening in ties between the neighbours, the Yonhap news agency said.
Under the 2018 agreements, both Koreas halted live-firing exercises, removed some land mines and destroyed guard posts along the world’s most heavily armed border.
Some experts argued the moves undermined South Korea’s security more than the North’s as Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal remained intact.
North Korea will likely next dismantle South Korean-built structures, equipment and other assets at the two cooperation sites before performing military drills and firing missiles and shells toward the sea, said Cheong Seong-chang, an analyst at the Sejong Institute, a think tank in South Korea.
Cheong said the deterioration of ties was now “unavoidable” and South Korea might respond with the resumption of propaganda loudspeaker broadcasts and joint military drills with the United States.
Some analysts see North Korea’s provocations as an attempt to get concessions from Washington and Seoul at a time when its economy, already battered by sanctions, has likely worsened due to the coronavirus pandemic. They say North Korea may be frustrated because the sanctions prevent Seoul from breaking away from Washington to resume joint economic projects with Pyongyang.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency on Wednesday said that recent actions were taken to retaliate for South Korea’s failure to prevent activists from floating propaganda leaflets across the border.
It said the destruction of the building Tuesday was a “reflection of the zeal of our enraged people to punish human scum who challenged the noblest dignity and prestige of our country and those who sheltered the scum, perpetrators of shuddering crime.” It said North Korea will set the intensity and timing for its additional steps while closely monitoring South Korean moves.
Kim Yo-jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, separately revealed that North Korea had rebuffed a recent offer by South Korean President Moon Jae-in to send special envoys to Pyongyang to defuse tension.
On Monday, Moon offered to send his national security adviser Chung Eui-yong and spy chief Suh Hoon as special envoys, KCNA said. But Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and a senior ruling party official, “flatly rejected the tactless and sinister proposal”.
“The solution to the present crisis between the North and the South caused by the incompetence and irresponsibility of the South Korean authorities is impossible and it can be terminated only when proper price is paid,” KCNA said.
The offer followed renewed tensions over South Korean activists recently resuming a campaign of anti-Kim regime leaflets sent over the border in balloons.
Kim Yo-jong also harshly criticised Moon in another KCNA statement, saying he had failed to implement any of the 2018 pacts and “put his neck into the noose of pro-US flunkyism”.
In response, one of Moon’s senior presidential advisers, Yoon Do-han, called Kim Yo-jong’s statement “very rude”, “irrational” and “senseless”. Yoon warned South Korea wouldn’t tolerate similar statements by North Korea any longer, while expressing regret over North Korea’s publicising of South Korea’s offer to send envoys.
The exchange of verbal salvos between the Koreas is highly unusual under Moon’s government, which has espoused greater rapprochement with North Korea since taking office in 2017. Moon has faced criticism that he was too soft on North Korea even when it publicly conducted weapons tests targeting South Korea.
Moon, who met Kim Jong-un three times in 2018, was a driving force behind the diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington, including the first summit between Kim and President Donald Trump in Singapore in June 2018.
Relations between the Koreas have been strained since a second Kim-Trump summit in early 2019 fell apart due to wrangling over the sanctions.
Re-arming the border
In a separate KCNA dispatch on Wednesday, a spokesman for the General Staff of the (North) Korean People’s Army (KPA) said it would dispatch troops to Mount Kumgang and Kaesong near the border, where the two Koreas had carried out joint economic projects in the past.
The KPA spokesman also said police posts that had been withdrawn from the heavily fortified Demilitarised Zone would be reinstalled, while artillery units near the western sea border, where defectors frequently send propaganda leaflets, would be reinforced.
The North would also restart sending anti-Seoul leaflets across the border, he added.
Seoul’s Defence Ministry has urged North Korea to abide by a 2018 inter-Korean military pact, under which both sides vowed to cease “all hostile acts” and dismantled a number of structures along the DMZ.
Jang Kum-chol, director of North Korea’s United Front Department in charge of cross-border affairs, said the North would never have talks or exchanges in the future with South Korean authorities “who evoke only disgust and nasty feelings”.
“It is our stand that we had better regard everything that happened between the North and the South as an empty dream,” he said, according to KCNA.