North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gave an order to suspend military action against South Korea on Wednesday, according to official state news agency Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). The announcement came a day before the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War in 1950.
According to KCNA, Kim presided over a Central Military Commission (CMC) video conference meeting, where he “took stock of the prevailing situation and suspended the military action plans against the South.”
Although no additional details were provided, the report mentioned that North Korea had also examined plans for “further bolstering the war deterrent of the country,” potentially referring to the country’s earlier threats to boost their nuclear weapons program.
Tensions have been escalating between North and South Korea in recent weeks after North Korea blew up their joint liaison office with the South.
North Korea’s stated motivation for the bombing was to punish South Korea for failing to prevent Noth Korean defectors from launching balloons containing anti-North Korea leaflets over the border. However, some also believe that the rising tensions can also be attributed to South Korea’s alliance with the United States, who have stalled nuclear negotiations with the North.
Since then, North Korea has threatened to send troops to disarmed areas near the border. They have reportedly also prepared 12 million anti-South Korean leaflets and 3,000 balloons, threatening to carry them across the border, along with cigarette butts and other trash.
The exact reasons behind North Korea’s abrupt decision to soften their stance however, remains unclear.
Earlier this week, North Korean military agents were seen installing around 20 loudspeakers in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) along the shared border. On Wednesday however, according to unnamed military sources speaking to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency, soldiers from the North were seen removing around 10 of the newly installed speakers.
A spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry also confirmed that, for reasons unknown to them, multiple North Korean propaganda websites had removed articles that criticized the South.
He also stated that the ministry is closely monitoring the situation and are still committed to honoring inter-Korean agreements.
Under the suspension – not cancellation – of military action against the South, the possibility of further provocation still remains. However, Kim’s regime has a history of issuing empty threats.
In December 2019, the North Korean vice minister of foreign affairs threatened to send the US a “Christmas gift” after the Trump administration refused to issue nuclear concessions. They also warned of a military strike against Guam, a US territory and home to a US air base in 2017. Neither of these threats were ever followed through.
Several experts suspect that the sudden escalation and de-escalation of tensions by North Korea may be an attempt to intimidate South Korea to offer additional concessions.
“North Korea made a provocation out of pyrotechnics, something that literally made a big bang and heightened the perception of tensions, but didn’t push things so far that Pyongyang couldn’t later gain leverage in the process of de-escalating and negotiating a resolution,” said Mintaro Oba, a former US diplomat who specialized in Korean Peninsula issues.
“There may be a pause in provocations or Pyongyang might temporarily de-escalate in search of external concessions,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
“As long as the Kim regime refuses to denuclearize, it is likely to use Seoul as a scapegoat for its military modernization and domestic politics of economic struggle,” he said.
“Now isn’t the time for anyone in Seoul or Washington to be self-congratulatory about deterring North Korea.”
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