Propaganda broadcasts show government’s willingness to risk confrontation

Posted on : 2016-01-08 17:15 KST Modified on : 2016-01-08 17:15 KST
The decision stands in contrast to the initial, more cautious responses immediately following the test
A day after North Korea’s fourth nuclear test
A day after North Korea’s fourth nuclear test

The South Korean government’s decision to resume the propaganda broadcasts against North Korea at noon on Jan. 8 is one of the most forceful reactions it could take, indicating a readiness to risk the possibility of a military clash between the North and South.

This measure is a response to the North’s fourth nuclear test, which was judged to be a violation of the Aug. 25 deal to end a military standoff and ease inter-Korean tensions. The situation on the Korean Peninsula is rapidly descending into an unpredictable fog.

It is presumed that the Blue House was behind this decision. This presumption is based on the fact that the Ministry of Unification’s initial measures to respond to North Korea on Jan. 7 differ considerably in their tone and content from the remarks made by Minister of National Defense Han Min-goo in the National Defense Committee of the National Assembly. Above all, there is a marked difference in tone between the comments that the minister made before the meeting with the National Defense Committee and the announcement on Thursday afternoon from Cho Tae-yong, 1st Deputy Director of the Office of National Security, that “North Korea’s fourth nuclear test was a serious violation of the Aug. 25 agreement between the two Koreas, qualifying as an abnormal case as stipulated in the agreement.” The decision, Cho said, had been made by the standing committee of the National Security Council (NSC).

“An abnormal case is essentially about regional provocation from North Korea in the border area,” said Han. “A strategic provocation like a nuclear test is a problem that requires a holistic, strategic approach.”

In other words, he did not directly state that the fourth nuclear test qualified as an abnormal case as stipulated by the Aug. 25 agreement.

Until the meeting of the NSC standing committee, which took place at 3 pm on Thursday, the minister’s only response to repeated demands from Saenuri Party lawmakers to resume the propaganda broadcasts was to repeat that they would “consider the option as part of comprehensive response measures.” The Aug. 25 agreement between North and South Korea states that “all propaganda broadcasts around the military demarcation line must stop, unless an abnormal case occurs.”

The first government-level measures that the Ministry of Unification offered in response to the North’s fourth nuclear test can also be seen as “low intensity,” with its proposal to limit entry into the Kaesong Industrial Complex as well as suspend social and cultural exchange and aid projects by civic groups.

“Now is the time to focus on initial measures, as the UN Security Council discusses sanctions,” a government official said. “Once the international community cooperates on North Korea and sanctions against the North are in place, then it will be time to consider what must be done between the two Koreas.” In other words, joint sanctions by the international community come before any independent moves against the North by the South Korean government.

Moreover, the suspension or closure of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the resumption of cross-border propaganda broadcasts are last-resort measures available to Seoul. With the May 24 Measures, taken in the aftermath of the sinking of the Cheonan, a Republic of Korea Navy ship, cutting off all other economic exchanges between the North and South, except Kaesong, any independent action from the South Korean government will be lacking in strength.

But even so, the government has resorted to playing its trump card, resuming propaganda broadcasts against North Korea. It is surmised that the government was reacting to conservative voices criticizing the response of the Park Geun-hye administration as being “too soft.”

On the same day, in the National Defense, Foreign Affairs and Unification Committees of the National Assembly, Saenuri Party lawmakers unanimously called for the recommencement of the broadcasts, and in the party’s Supreme Council, floor leader Won Yoo-chul even suggested nuclear armament, saying that it was time to acquire nuclear weapons for peace and self-defense.

Whatever the weight of such circumstances, the argument that the South Korean government needed to take independent action against the North reportedly gained traction in the NSC standing committee.

North Korea regards the loudspeaker broadcasts and the launch of balloons filled with propaganda leaflets as strategic provocations aimed at weakening the foundations of its regime. The North responded with artillery fire when South Korea resumed the loudspeaker broadcasts after an 11-year period of silence, following the explosion of land mines that wounded two South Korean soldiers in the DMZ last August.

Furthermore, Jan. 8, the date the government chose to resume its broadcasts, is also the birthday of Kim Jong-un, supreme leader of North Korea. With the rupture of the Aug. 25 agreement, which both sides had worked so hard to achieve, the two Koreans look to be entering an unpredictable situation of military confrontation, conflict, and clashes.

By Lee Je-hun, Choi Hye-jeong, and Kim Jin-cheol, staff reporters

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