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Pyongyang’s hysteria

Publication Date : 25-04-2012


North Korean hysteria against the South has reached new heights with its military, government and party organisations competing to hurl the worst-ever verbal provocations, with threats of imminent “retaliatory attacks” on President Lee Myung-bak and other “anti-North” forces here. The harsher its words become, the calmer our response should be.

On Monday, a People’s Army outfit called the “Special Operations Action Group” made a “notice” to the South via the North’s official Central News Agency, warning of “a special action taking three to four minutes or even shorter time to annihilate the origin of hostilities toward us.” The target of this supposed blitz are Lee and, strangely enough, South Korea’s conservative media.

We are not keen about closely examining every word in this outburst, which sounded like an ultimatum at least for a limited war. Yet, we can conjecture what made them so angry after the pompous celebrations of the centenary of Kim Il-sung, which unfortunately included the botched launch of a long-range rocket. Lee had said, based on conservative media reports, that the North would have better used the US$850 million believed spent for the presumed missile launch to buy 2.5 million tonnes of corn to feed its starving people.

Last week, the president made a series of candid advice to the North’s young new leader, Kim Jong-un, about making North Korean farmers self-supporting and improving the human rights situation in the North. In a Unification Ministry-sponsored seminar, he called on Kim to boldly reform the collective farms to introduce individually-responsible production system.

On a visit to the Agency for Defence Development, the president watched the video of locally-developed cruise and ballistic missiles with proven capability of precision strikes. Local media reported that these weapons can make a direct surgical attack on Kim Jong-un’s office in Pyongyang, quoting Lee as saying that the development of such arms was necessary to ensure survival against the most bellicose regime in the world.

These presidential remarks were unusually direct in pointing out the weakness of the North Korean system but Lee’s words were many times less provocative than the usual slander that North Korean official mouthpieces have thrown at the South Korean president over the past four years. Since the first inter-Korean summit in 2000, South Korean media have attached the official title of “Defence Commission chairman” to the name of Kim Jong-il and now the more general title “leader” to Kim Jong-un. The Northerners these days never fail to call Lee a “traitor” or “rat”.

The escalation of North Korean verbal attacks on the South has exhausted their vocabularies and they are now threatening us with a conundrum of an attack “using special means of our own method”. Military experts are searching the North’s arsenal to identify the type of possible strike on South Korean targets in order to be ready for any eventuality. Urban terrorism is not excluded.

Defence Minister Kim Kwan-jin and other military commanders have vowed an instant counterattack on the origin of North Korean military actions in the event the North launches an attack like the sinking of the Cheonan or the bombing of Yeonpyeongdo in 2010. We trust that the military has taken all necessary measures to counter Northern hostilities of any scale, although there is no overt sign that the defence condition has been upgraded yet.

North Koreans have in recent years failed to make good their warnings of punitive or retaliatory strikes when the allied South Korean and US forces held field and naval exercises or civilians flew psychological operations balloons to the North, losing some credibility. But they did sink the patrol craft and destroy the civilian village on Yeonpyeongdo in unprovoked attacks.

The armed forces should be on full alert, considering the fluidity of power structure in the North where anything is possible. Commanders will compete with each other to prove their loyalty and the new leader could scheme a military adventure in an attempt to secure the allegiance of soldiers. One piece of advice to our president is that it is of no use to point out the North’s political and economic weaknesses, which could drive them to act unpredictably to save face.


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