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North Korea blasts joint liaison office with South in Kaesong
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North Korea has blasted a combined liaison office with the South near the North’s border town of Kaesong.
The scheme attains just hours after the North revived threats of military activity at the Korean border.
The site was inaugurated in 2018 to aid the Koreas – officially in a state of war – to relate. It had been empty since January due to Covid-19 hindrances.
In a message, South Korea cautioned it would “respond strongly” if the North “continues to worsen the situation”.
The demolition of the office, it said, “abandons the hopes of everyone who wanted the development of inter-Korean relations and peace settlement in the Korean Peninsula”.
“The government makes it clear that all responsibility of this situation lies in the North.”
Russia reflected skepticism at the renewed between the Koreas.
“We call for restraint from all the sides,” Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, said on Tuesday.
Reuters news agency mentioned an unidentified senior US official as saying the Trump administration remained “in close co-ordination with our Republic of Korea (South Korea) allies”.
Tensions between North and South Korea have been escalating for weeks, stimulated by alien groups in the South dispatching propaganda across the boundary.
The North Korean leader’s sister, Kim Yo-jong – supposed a close and potent ally – endangered at the weekend to demolish the office.
Her brother, Kim Jong-un, has ruled North Korea as Supreme Leader since 2011.
There were expectations for preferable connections between the North and the South and its immediate ally the US after Donald Trump met Mr. Kim at the North-South border last June, but nothing materialised and the atmosphere has since degenerated.
North Korea is under paralyzing the US and UN economic embargoes over its militarised nuclear programme. Washington has not yet commented on the North’s latest action.
Pyongyang has charged the escalation on Seoul’s incapacity to deter defectors from flying anti-regime propaganda over the border. But it is possible that this is just being used as an excuse.
The leafleting gives a “cause” for North Koreans to rally around. It was significant that once again, in the effect of the eruption, state media made citation to “human scum” – their illustration of North Korean defectors in the South.
Kim Jong-un has failed to bring economic wealth to his people and strict International sanctions stay in place. There are also chronic rumours that Covid-19 has affected rural parts of the country. Giving North Koreans a common enemy may help direct their attention elsewhere.
Pyongyang is also furious at Seoul for not contesting Washington’s insistence that rigorous sanctions should stay in place and for not proposing inter-Korean projects which would have breached both UN and US sanctions.
It feels as if North Korea could be penalizing the South and with the intent of using the tension as leverage in future talks.
Whatever the intention, this is a real slap in the face for a South Korean government that propelled so hard for engagement.
In recent weeks, North Korea has frequently criticized the South for authorizing propaganda into its province.
Defector groups regularly dispatch such material via balloons, or even drones, into the North.
Last Tuesday, Pyongyang notified it was severing authorized communication links with Seoul, and over the weekend Kim Yo-jong compelled to convey troops into the demilitarised zone (DMZ) at the inter-Korean border.
North and South Korea are technically still at war because no unity agreement was attained when the Korean War ended in 1953.
What is the Kaesong liaison office?
The border town of Kaesong has for years been a reminder of the fragile liaison between North and South Korea.
In 2003, it emerged as the site of an industrial zone – the Kaesong Industrial Complex – set up between the North and South.
The office was inaugurated with great fanfare in September 2018
At its peak, it saw more than 120 factories, employing more than 50,000 North Koreans and hundreds of managers from the South.
But in 2016 it was closed after pressures reached a head – bringing to a halt a symbol of co-operation.
So, in 2018, it glared as though things were back on track when both Koreas consented to set up an inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong.
It allowed officials from the North and South to communicate regularly for the first time since the Korean War and was implied to be staffed by up to 20 people from each side.
But in March 2019, North Korea declared that it was evacuating from the office – proceeding a failed summit between the US and North Korea.
Kim Yo-jong, sister of the North Korean leader, has an increasingly public profile
In recent years the younger sister of Kim Jong-un has emerged as an influential ally.
From 2014, Kim Yo-jong’s crucial job was to safeguard her brother’s image, adopting a key role in the party’s propaganda department.
When, in 2017, she was promoted to an alternate member of the politburo, it appeared to imply a shift in seniority – although her major role remained in propaganda.
In 2018, she shot into the international limelight when, at the Winter Olympics, she became the first member of the Kim family to visit South Korea.
Her progressed rise shows she has gained the deep trust of her brother, and when Mr. Kim’s disappearance in April generated questions about his health, she was inferred as a possible successor.
In recent weeks, she has been liable for disseminating numerous strongly-worded memos against the South – and has arisen as North Korea’s new point-person on inter-Korean affairs, according to specialist site NK News.
However, North Korea’s power mechanisms are notoriously difficult to understand.
It’s therefore difficult to estimate how much power – or how much of her own political network – the 32-year-old might have.