Tensions Continue to Rise Between North and South KoreaFebruary 15, 2016 in North Korea, South Korea
Over the past week, tensions have continued to mount between North and South Korea, in the wake of Pyongyang’s recent rocket and nuclear tests.
On 11 February, North Korea vowed to cut two key communication hotlines with the South. The latest move comes after Seoul suspended its operations at the jointly-run Kaesong industrial complex in the North. Kaesong is one of the last points of co-operation between the two Koreas and a key source of revenue for Pyongyang. The North has called the shutdown “a declaration of war” and has designated Kaesong as a military zone. Seoul meanwhile has stated that the suspension is aimed at cutting off money, which the North uses for nuclear and missile development. On Thursday, Pyongyang also vowed to seize the assets of South Korean companies in Kaesong, and said that all workers from the South had to leave by 17:30 local time (08:30 GMT). South Korean companies had already started withdrawing managers, equipment and stock after Seoul announced the suspension. However according to sources, some South Korean workers were still in Kaesong after the deadline, stating that they had been instructed to wait for further instructions from South Korean officials.
North Korea previously cut communication hotlines with the South in 2013, however it reopened them after relations between the two countries improved. The hotlines, which are intended to defuse dangerous military situation, include one used by the military and another used to communicate with the United Nations Command at Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone. A third hotline is maintained by the Red Cross.
Last month, Pyongyang carried out its fourth nuclear test, while on Sunday (7 February), it launched a satellite into space. Both moves have drawn international condemnation.
The latest showdown between the two Koreas comes as the United States Senate voted unanimously in favor of tougher sanctions against North Korea. The draft legislation targets any person or entity trading or financing anything related to weapons of mass destruction, conventional arms proliferation, North Korea’s rocket programme, money laundering, narcotics trafficking, human rights abuses, activities that threaten US cyber security, and the import of luxury goods. While all were already sanctioned, the latest measures aim to tighten the restrictions. The bill also authorities US $50 million for radio broadcasts into North Korea and humanitarian aid programmes. Last month, the House of Representatives passed a similar bill. The two will now have to be reconciled into a final measure, which will need to be signed of by President Barack Obama.
IMO: North Korea Has Issued Shipping Warning for Satellite LaunchFebruary 4, 2016 in North Korea
On Tuesday (2 February 2015) North Korea issued a formal notification of an imminent satellite rocket launch, effectively flagging a second major breach of United Nations resolutions following its nuclear test last month. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has disclosed that it has received a shipping warning from North Korea of its intention to launch an earth observation satellite between 8 – 25 February 2015.
While Pyongyang insists that its space programme is purely scientific in nature, the international community views such launches as disguised ballistic missile tests. UN resolutions forbid North Korea from any use of ballistic missile technology. It imposed sanctions following its last rocket launch in December 2012.
If the notified launched does go ahead, it will be a particularly defiant slap in the face of the United States, which has spent the last month seeking international support for tough sanctions on Pyongyang over its 6 January nuclear test. That test, which drew international condemnation, was its fourth nuclear bomb test.
Tensions Ease Between North and South KoreaAugust 25, 2015 in North Korea, South Korea
High level negotiations between Seoul and Pyongyang have eased tensions on the Korean Peninsula, where the possibility of a military clash has loomed large since a rare exchange of fire across the border late last week.
In recent weeks relations between the two states have became increasingly hostile. Earlier this month, two members of a South Korean border patrol were seriously injured in a mine blast, an incident described by Seoul as a cowardly act of provocation which merited “harsh” retaliation. Pyongyang was similarly incensed by the commencement of joint military exercises between South Korea and the US – an annual event which the North believes is preparation for war and the eventual occupation of their capital.
These exercises were temporarily suspended after an exchange of artillery fire across the border on Thursday 20 August. According to South Korea’s defence ministry, shortly before 4pm local time, a single North Korean artillery shell was fired across the border. Minutes later, this was followed by several more shells which fell harmlessly into the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ). In retaliation, South Korea fired dozens of artillery rounds back across the border while placing its troops on maximum alert and ordering the residents of Yeoncheon county to evacuate their homes. So far no one from either side of the border is reported to have been injured in this exchange of fire.
After several troubling days, the standoff ended earlier today when an agreement was reached by negotiators in Panmunjom, an abandoned village north of the Military Demarcation Line where the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed in 1953. Talks began on Saturday evening after Seoul passed a deadline imposed by Pyongyang to end propaganda broadcasts across the border or face the possibility of military action. The South eventually agreed to this demand and in turn, the North agreed to voice its regret over the injuries sustained by the two South Korean soldiers. Former South Korean diplomat and current UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has congratulated both sides for speedily resolving the crisis before it was allowed to escalate and expressed the hope that the two countries could use this decision as a springboard to solve other problems which affect the troubled peninsula.
Tensions Rise on the Korean Peninsula as North and South Korea Exchange FireApril 1, 2014 in North Korea, South Korea
Tensions rose on Monday as North and South Korea traded hundreds of rounds of live artillery fire across their disputed maritime border, forcing South Korean islanders to take shelter just one day after the North increased tensions by threatening to carry out a “new” nuclear test.
South Korean officials indicated Monday that they had returned fire after North Korean shells landed in its territorial waters. In an attempt to ensure maximum publicity for its live-fire drill, North Korea took an unusual step by notifying the South beforehand. The live-fire exercises were announced by North Korea in a faxed message from its military to the South’s navy, with South Korea warning of an immediate retaliation if any shells were to cross its border.
A statement released by South Korea’s Defence Ministry indicated “some of (North Korea’s) shells landed south of the border during the drill. So our military fired back north of the border in line with ordinary protocol.” South Korea further stated that the sides exchanged hundreds of shells, with Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok indicating that “the North fired some 500 shots…and some 100 of them landed in waters south of the border.” In response, the spokesman indicated that the South had responded to Pyongyang’s “premeditated provocation” by firing 300 shells from K-9 self-propelled howitzer batteries that are based on its front-line islands, adding “if the North takes issue with our legitimate returning of fire and uses it to make yet another provocation towards our sea and islands, we will make a resolute retaliation.” During the three-hour incident, which began at 12:15PM (0315 GMT), border island residents were evacuated to shelters as South Korean fighter jets flew overhead. The evacuation order was lifted an hour after the North ended its drills.
While China, which is North Korea’s largest trading partner, has called for calm and restraint in the wake of the exchange of fire, Monday’s incident, which comes a day after Pyongyang threatened to conduct a “new” type of nuclear test, has largely been seen as a sign of the North’s growing frustration with the United States’ resistance to resume multi-party talks on its nuclear programme. The nuclear negotiations are seen by Pyongyang as an opportunity for it to win material concessions and aid from the international community. Monday’s incident also coincided with a massive, amphibious landing drill by nearly 15,000 South Korean and US troops.
Tensions Increased Over Past Few Weeks
While Monday’s incident is not the first to occur in recent year, North-South tensions have been rising for weeks, undermining hopes that were raised after the North in February of this year hosted the first reunion for more than three years of families that were separated by the war.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula have been on the rise after North Korea last week test-fired two medium-range Nodong missiles over the sea, its first such launch since 2009. According to the South Korean defence ministry, the missiles were fired from the Suckon region north of Pyongyang and flew for about 650 kilometres (400 miles) before falling into the sea off the east coast of the Korean peninsula. Ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok stated that the Nodong “…is capable of hitting not only most of Japan but also Russia and China.” The launch came shortly after US, South Korean and Japanese officials met for talks in the Netherlands. It also came on the fourth anniversary of the sinking of a South Korean warship.
The launch of the two missiles marked a step up from the short-range rockets Pyongyang has fired in recent weeks. Those launches were seen as a response to the current US-South Korea annual military exercises. To date, North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests, with the most recent, and most powerful, occurring in February last year.
While the United Nations drew the western border after the Korean War (1950 – 1953), North Korea has never recognised it and the area has been a flashpoint between the two Koreas. It argues that the de-facto maritime boundary was unilaterally drawn by US-led United Nations forces. In late 2010, four South Koreans, two marines and two civilians, were killed on a border island by North Korean artillery fire. At the time, North Korea stated that it was responding to South Korean military exercises that were occurring in the area. Tensions were already high that year after a South Korean warship sank near Baengnyeong island, resulting in the deaths of forty-six people. At the time, Seoul stated that Pyongyan had torpedoed the vessel, however North Korea denied any role in the incident. Border fire was also briefly exchanged in August 2011.
Korean Peninsula Calm as War Games BeginAugust 20, 2013 in North Korea, South Korea
Annual joint military exercises between the American and South Korean (Republic of Korea, or ROK) armed forces began yesterday, the 19th of August, in an atmosphere of surprising calm on the Korean peninsula. These war games have often seen strident criticism from the ROK’s secretive neighbour North Korea (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK) in the past. Particularly given the drastic escalation of tensions that occurred earlier this year, the relative inexperience of the DPRK’s new leader Kim Jong-Un, and the unpredictable nature of the DPRK itself, the exercises had been seen as a potential flashpoint. While some North Korean rhetoric condemning the exercises has emerged in the past hour, it is noticeably milder than usual and seemingly indicates the DPRK’s current preference for a resumption of diplomatic talks.
The exercises, named Ulchi Freedom Guardian, involve 30’000 American and 50’000 South Korean troops. These computer simulated war games will continue until the 30th of August, according to the ROK’s defence ministry and the US military command in Seoul. These annual exercises are of a primarily defensive nature according to Kim Min-seok, a spokesman for ROK defence ministry “Ulchi Freedom Guardian…is a joint exercise by South Korea and the United States to prepare for possible provocation from North Korea. The Korean peninsula is under constant threat from the North and the joint exercise is indispensable to maintaining stability” while ROK president Park Guen-hye cited the drills as vital for South Korea’s “readiness posture”.
In previous years, North Korea has acted extremely aggressively to these exercises, denouncing them in media statements and suggesting they are preparation for an invasion. During the extreme escalation of tensions on the peninsula in spring, Pyongyang threatened retaliation with nuclear weapons if US-South Korean war games went ahead. In the build-up to these well publicised exercises however, the atmosphere remained calm. This morning, the North Korean Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea belatedly released a statement via state media condemning the drills as a “provocation” and threated South Korea with unspecified consequences.
However, this rhetoric is extremely mild by North Korean standards, particularly in light of Pyongyang’s behaviour earlier this year. During that period, in response to increased UN sanctions in light of its nuclear weapons program, the DPRK severed communication links with the south, made almost daily threats of nuclear annihilation, and moved military hardware such as missiles towards the coastal regions, placing nations throughout East Asia on alert.
Since then however, tensions have begun to calm, with the resumption of talks between the two Koreas beginning. The countries are working towards reopening the joint Kaesong industrial park, which has North Korean workers and South Korean managers. The park is seen as an important barometer of relations between the countries, and was closed earlier this year. A possible re-opening would be a notable conciliatory gesture from the North, though one not without self-interest, as the park provides a much needed source of hard currency for the impoverished DPRK. Pyongyang also agreed on Sunday to talks about reuniting families separated by the end of the Korean War in 1953, another measure that was seen as a key inter-Korea cooperation project. Lastly, the DPRK is also angling for a resumption of South Korean tourist tours of Diamond Mountain, suspended since the shooting of a South Korean woman by a North Korean soldier in 2008 and also a much needed source of foreign currency for the DPRK.
As such, it currently appears that the North has chosen to take a calm approach to the current exercises in order to facilitate much needed diplomatic gains. This is a common practice in DPRK foreign policy – a rapid escalation of tensions featuring apocalyptic threats is followed by equally sudden de-escalation, with the promise of talks on diplomatic issues used as leverage to extract developmental aid and other concessions. The DPRK’s mild behaviour and current easing of tensions is likely a manifestation of this trend.