On Korean Balloons and Exchange of Fire
October 10, 2014
Following a surprise visit by the North Korean top officials to South Korea last Saturday, the two Koreas exchanged rounds of gun fire across the border yesterday on October 10. The exchange of fire began after North Korea responded to the balloons carrying leaflets critical of the regime and its leader that were launched by a group of South Korean civil activists in the border village of Paju. Last month, North Korea had warned against the anti-North Korea leaflet campaign, threatening it would resort in “catastrophic” consequences if ignored. South Korean military responded with reportedly 40 rounds of heavy machine gun fire toward the North following an issue of prior warning. The Koreas exchanged another round of fire later and some of the gun shells fell in the South Korea territory, but there were no reported casualties on either side.
Meanwhile, amid ongoing rumors about his disappearance from the public eye since September 3, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un failed to attend the 69th anniversary of the foundation of the Workers’ Party of Korea yesterday, fueling more speculations about his health and whereabouts.
Q1: What does it mean?
A1: CSIS Korea Chair longitudinal studies find that there has been no significant correlation over the last thirty years between North-South talks and the cessation of military provocations by North Korea. Pyongyang has a tendency to increase tension on the peninsula and use it as leverage. Three days after the North Korean’s officials visit on October 4, the two Koreas had a small skirmish at the disputed Northern Limit Line on October 7. The North’s military response yesterday reflects its hyper-sensitivity about the anti-regime balloons and leaflets, but Pyongyang could use this incident as a pretext to put pressure on the South Korean government for the upcoming inter-Korean talks.
Q2: What will be the implications of this exchange of fires on the upcoming high-level inter-Korean talks?
A2: Not clear. The incident will likely complicate the upcoming talks between the two Koreas-tentatively scheduled for late October and early November-as North Korea will want an apology from the South Korea government about the launch of the balloons.
Victor Cha is a senior adviser and holds the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C. Ellen Kim is a fellow and assistant director with the Korea Chair.
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