Seventy years ago on June 24, North Korean tanks, mobile artillery and infantry units massed just beyond the lightly defended frontier that separated communist North from capitalist South. The war that broke out on June 25, 1950, claimed an estimated 4 million lives – the majority of them civilians – and left the peninsula in ruins.
State-run media quoted Kim Yo Jong, the sister of dictator Kim Jong Un and increasingly powerful in the regime, as saying that the 2018 agreement to ease military tensions on the peninsula was “dead” and that the North was acting after Seoul had failed to stop defectors and human rights activists from floating balloons carrying propaganda leaflets, dollar bills and memory sticks with South Korean television programs over the border into the North.
Seoul has called on the North to adhere to the pact designed to reduce bilateral tensions, but, with the anniversary of the war opening, there are no signs that Pyongyang is in any mood to moderate its behaviour. It is heightening the pressure on the South. This week, North Korean troops have been spotted making preparations to rebuild and return to the 150 emplacements on the border that were torn down under the 2018 agreement. There are reports that anti-aircraft guns are in positions behind the frontline, presumably to shoot down any propaganda balloons that are launched from the South.
On the west coast of the peninsula, the blast doors of artillery positions set into hillsides overlooking the disputed maritime border have been opened. Satellite images of the Sinpo naval shipyard have detected renewed activity at the dock where North Korea’s first ballistic missile-capable submarine is being built, suggesting that sea trials of the vessel might not be far off.
Most immediately, Pyongyang insists that it will go ahead with the release of its own propaganda bundles aimed at the South. “Both North and South Korean seem to be completely oblivious to what happened here 70 years ago,” said a former high-ranking diplomat. “But in recent days, North Korea has suddenly become completely belligerent and threatening towards the South,” he said, adding that he is really at a loss to explain why or what they think they might be able to achieve.
“These threats are worrying because the North has expanded its military might dramatically over the last few years and I am not sure that we in the South have sufficient defensive capabilities to withstand them at the moment.” The retired diplomat, who also served in South Korean military intelligence, told DW on condition of anonymity that the “weak” response of the government in Seoul led to the provocations. “They seem to be almost apologetic towards the North,” he said. “The North has been sending similar propaganda leaflets into the South for years and we did nothing to retaliate.”
“This government is made up of people who have a track record of being pro-North Korean and I do not understand why they are now apologising for citizens’ groups sending this information into the North,” he said. There are many theories as to why North Korea has suddenly assumed an aggressive posture towards the South once more, said Robert Dujarric, a professor of international relations at the Tokyo campus of Temple University.
— This article has been provided by Deutsche Welle