North Korea said it will send “retaliatory leaflets” to South Korea across the border. The North’s United Front Department ignored the South’s call for an immediate withdrawal of the plan and vowed to carry it out.
This is an extension of Pyongyang’s wayward show of force following its blowup of a joint liaison office for inter-Korean talks and the announcement that it would redeploy its troops to the mountain Kumgangsan and the closed Kaesong industrial park.
A series of strong actions taken by the North with lightning speed seem to have been well prepared in advance. That the North looks poised to keep going its way without faltering, whatever the South says, adds to the seriousness of the situation.
Pyongyang cites two pretexts for flying anti-Seoul leaflets. They can be narrowed down to this: “Because the South first sent leaflets to the North, it is your turn to be humiliated” and “Now that South-North relations have broken down, violations of the inter-Korean agreement (which bans sending leaflets) can be overlooked.”
But this is an unconvincing argument that disregards the South Korean government’s moves to block the scattering of anti-Pyongyang leaflets in a bid to keep the inter-Korean agreement alive.
It is extremely regrettable for North Korea to speak and behave however it pleases.
The content of leaflets the North vowed to send to the South is disappointing and childish. The leaflets displayed by the North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency are filled with raw criticism and mockery of President Moon Jae-in. A photo captured by the agency shows a transparent plastic bag containing cigarette butts, ashes and hairs strewn over embarrassing printed pictures of Moon. This is nothing more and nothing less than an expression of the North’s intent to insult and provoke him.
But the North must know that it would be a strategic error if it thought the leaflets would breed discord among South Koreans. Unlike North Korea, a thoroughly closed society, South Korea allows free expression and criticism of the president. Rather, the North’s leaflet operation runs the risk of weakening the doves who support dialogue.
North Korea had better stop trying to escalate tensions needlessly and withdraw its useless leaflet plan immediately.
The North is going the opposite direction, away from peace on the Korean Peninsula, and the South must respond resolutely.
In that context, a warning message by the presidential office and the Ministry of Unification can be positively assessed. The ministry was right to express deep regret over the North’s leaflet plan and demand its immediate suspension.
Nevertheless, the North will likely carry out its plan. If it scatters anti-Seoul leaflets into the South, this will weaken the case for South Korea’s ban on sending leaflets to the North. It also proves that the North had no intention of solving problems from the start, but only wants to escalate tension on the peninsula.
North Korea curses the South Korean president and attempts to intimidate South Korea on an almost daily basis. The leaflets displayed by North Korea seem to contain anti-South anger beyond speculation about power transfers or economic destitution in the North. People cannot but wonder what really happened to South-North relations for the past three years to prompt the North to suddenly heap insults on the South Korean president.
Meanwhile, a ruling party lawmaker made the unrealistic proposal to build two more offices now that the liaison office has been demolished unilaterally by the North. The presidential office is quiet after bursting into rage, saying it will not endure any more. But the president’s remarks that “now we cannot help but endure” are confusing and vain.
The administration needs to reassure the people with its policies toward North Korea and its preparations for an emergency situation.
A consistently submissive attitude, such as “if the North strikes you, turn the other cheek,” will only fan the flames of ridicule and threats.