SEOUL: Tensions have escalated on the Korean Peninsula after Pyongyang blew up its liaison office with the South and prompted the resignation of South Korea’s Unification Minister, a point man designated to mend fragile ties with the North.
Pyongyang blew up an inter-Korean liaison office building just north of its border with the South, citing outrage at Seoul over leaflets sent into the North, more often than not, by balloon over the North Korean border town of Kaesong or in bottles by the river.
Moreover, defector-led groups in the South regularly send anti-Pyongyang publicity flyers, along with food, US one-dollar bills, mini radios, and USB sticks containing South Korean TV shows and news clips.
Pyongyang has warned the South several times recently to stop the propaganda campaign and has already severed two valued hotlines with Seoul.
As for the demolition, North Korea had warned that the explosion of its liaison office building, which symbolized inter-Korean rapprochement, would prove a first step towards “a total catastrophe” in relations between the two sides.
North Korea threatened the next day to bolster its military presence in and around the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two Koreas, and to resume military exercises in the border area, where they had been suspended to encourage US talks with the North on its nuclear program.
South Korea, for its part, responded that the North “will pay the price” in case of any military action.
Following the warnings, South Korea’s Minister of Unification Kim Yeon-chul submitted his resignation and President Moon Jae-in “accepted” the offer, the presidential Blue House said in a statement, without giving further details.
The two Koreas remain technically at war since the 1950-1953 Korean War ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty.
The neighbors began fence-mending talks in January 2018.
South Korea also mediated diplomacy between the North and the United States. US President Donald Trump and Kim held three meetings but the negotiations were eventually halted owing to Trump’s refusal to relieve any of the harsh US sanctions on the North in exchange for goodwill measures by Pyongyang.
The United States has been attempting to pressure the North into giving up its nuclear program.
US claims N Korea to be an ‘extraordinary threat’
In a related development on Thursday, a senior Pentagon official claimed that North Korea remains an acute threat to the Indo-Pacific region.
“As we’ve been starkly reminded in recent days, North Korea continues to present an extraordinary threat to the region and which demands our continued vigilance,” said David Helvey, the acting assistant secretary of US defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs.
“It’s hard to tell what’s going to unfold over the next few days and weeks. But I do think that it’s important to say that we remain vigilant against any types of threats and provocations,” Helvey added.
The United States, an extra-regional force, has been trying to increase tensions and create confrontations in the Indo-Pacific region in order to exert its influence and flaunt its military presence there.
The US military regularly conducts what it refers to as “freedom of navigation” missions and air patrols over the South China Sea, which is also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, and others and acts as gateway to trillions of dollars in maritime trade each year.
The US has been warned to roll back its growing presence and stop its provocative patrols near Chinese islands in the sea.