smoke rises from the chimneys of farmhouses in Gaepung-gun
North Korea issued a warning October 16 that if the Lee Myung-bak administration continues defaming North Korea’s dignity and pursuing a course of indiscriminate anti-republic confrontation, North Korea will be forced to make a “crucial decision,” including the severing of inter-Korean relations.
In a writing printed October 16 in the Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of North Korea’s Workers’ Party of Korea, entitled “Commentary: Matters Will Be Settled to the Last with Those Pursuing Foolish Delusions,” North Korea declared that the offense to the supreme dignity of North Korea by the Lee Myung-bak administration was a declaration of war against the country. As “supreme dignity” is a reference to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, this commentary is being interpreted as regarding as a major issue the attitude of South Korea in its response following recent speculation on the ill health of Kim Jong-il.
This newspaper commentary in connection with inter-Korean relations comes seven months after a warning of the freezing of inter-Korean relations issued on April 1 of this year, in which it was claimed that the Lee Myung-bak administration was blocking the implementation of the June 15 and October 4 declarations. This time the level of the warning has been raised to “a crucial decision including the severing of inter-Korean relations,” suggesting a strong possibility that additional measures will emerge, including the closing of tourism or the industrial complex in Gaeseong (Kaesong), depending on the nature of South Korea’s response.
The commentary stated that the Lee Myung-bak administration was “captured in a delusion of unification through absorption, making references to emergency situations and even revealing designs on our system.” It also stated that plans for an invasion of North Korea were being supplemented and completed, and that joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea were shifting into training for real combat as a result. The commentary also claimed, “North Korea does not intend to stand idly by watching intrigues against the republic by Lee Myung-bak’s gang, and will ruthlessly chastise those who offend our sacred system.”
With regard to the background of the commentary, Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon said that the comments are peculiar in their reference to “supreme dignity.” This means that there is a strong possibility it was prepared in response to recent tendencies shown by South Korea in relation to Kim Jong-il’s health issues, including open speculation by the National Intelligence Service about Kim Jong-il having had brain surgery, and following controversies over references to a possible sudden turn of events and OPLAN 5029. Institute for National Security Strategy senior researcher Kim Seong-bae said that it appeared that Pyongyang views the South Korean government as having intentions toward overthrowing the North Korean regime and has decided to take powerful measures in response.
It also appears to have the underlying intention of preventing the possibility of shakeups within North Korea following the long-term absence of Kim Jong-il. The analysis of former Vice Unification Minister Lee Bong-jo is that it was an attempt to urge good faith from South Korea as an extension of the North’s demands at the October 2 military talks, namely the cessation of the distribution of leaflets to the North by a group of North Korean refugees to the South critical of Kim Jong-il.
Experts agree in their analysis that this commentary is a strategic move bearing in mind advancements in North Korea-U.S. relations as seen in the two countries’ recent agreement on nuclear verification and the United States’ lifting of North Korea’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. Based on optimistic projections of the improvement of relations with the United States, Pyongyang is pressuring the Lee Myung-bak administration to make a choice as to whether it will persist in its current policy toward North Korea or shift to a policy based in implementation of the June 15 and October 4 declarations.
Pyongyang has already announced at the military talks held on October 2 that measures such as the limiting of passage by South Korean personnel and the disallowance of South Korean personnel in the Gaeseong and Mount Geumgang (Kumgang) regions would be adopted if the issue of leaflet distribution is not rectified. Kim Seong-bae predicted that the discontinuation of tourism in Gaeseong and limited warfare-type clashes in the regions of the Northern Limit Line or the Demilitarized Zone might occur if speculation on the ill health of Kim Jong-il continues to expand.
Kim Yeon-cheol, the head of the Hankyoreh Peace Institute, commented that it is important to block a negative ripple effect from the current structure of inter-Korean relations and prepare an opportunity for a reversal, and that the first priority was the establishment of the government’s perspective on dealing with inter-Korean relations amid changes in the state of affairs on the Korean Peninsula.
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