South Korea confirmed – with dramatic video – that the repressive regime in North Korea bombed the two countries’ joint liaison office in Kaesong on Tuesday, reducing it to rubble.
The attack occurred about a week after Pyongyang stopped answering a direct phone line established in 2018 so that both sides could speak on a twice-daily basis, an attempt to maintain peaceful communications. North Korean state media, citing dictator Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong, insisted that the catalyst for the demise of diplomacy was a campaign by independent human rights activists in the South to send leaflets with news of the outside world to North Korea. The activists also attempted to send food aid to North Korea by filling floating water bottles with rice and other necessary goods.
Leftist South Korean President Moon Jae-in attempted to appease North Korea by ordering police to antagonize human rights activists, but it appears not to have prevented a military attack on South Korean property.
According to South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper, the liaison office was built exclusively with South Korean funds, costing taxpayers in the country $13.9 million for the nearly two years of its existence.
Video footage appears to show the facility exploding from the ground, rather than from an airstrike. South Korean news outlets have not at press time reported any casualties, although the bombing occurred on a weekday afternoon.
“Regarded as the most significant tangible achievement of the Moon Jae-in administration’s short-lived rapprochement with Pyongyang, the inter-Korean liaison office in the North Korean border city of Kaesong was established in September 2018 after a series of inter-Korean summits that year,” JoongAng noted.
Experts to South Korean media they believed the abrupt belligerence may be a “distraction” from the deteriorating situation within the country. While North Korea’s communist government insists that it has documented no cases of Chinese coronavirus in the country – sandwiched between three of the world’s most affect by the pandemic, China, Russia, and South Korea – few believe this claim, citing the rapid construction of an emergency hospital in the capital.
“The inter-Korean joint liaison office was completely destroyed on June 16,” North Korean state media confirmed on Tuesday. “The sector concerned of the north side took a step of completely destroying the inter-Korean joint liaison office in the Kaesong Industrial Zone after cutting off all the communication lines between the north and the south, meeting the demand of the enraged people for making the human scum and those who connived at them pay dearly for their crimes.”
Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the communist Worker’s Party of [North] Korea (WPK), celebrated the bombing as a reasonable response to the “human scum and traitors” sending humanitarian aid and leaflets across the border.
“The world will soon witness how our people with absolute trust in their leader and ardent affection for their country punish the south Korean authorities and sweep the earth of the human scum for good,” Rodong Sinmun declared. “Unchangeable is the will of our people to take successive retaliatory measures till the south Korean authorities are made to keenly realize what regret and anguish their reckless acts bring to them.”
Moon’s administration in Seoul responded to the provocation with “regret,” calling the act “senseless” and “unheard-of,” according to the Yonhap news agency.
“The destruction … is an act that breaches the hope of all people wishing for the development of inter-Korean relations and a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Cheong Wa Dae, the presidential palace, said through Kim You-geun, the deputy director of its national security office. “The government makes clear that all responsibility caused by this rests totally with the North Korean side. We sternly warn that if North Korea takes steps further aggravating the situation, we will respond strongly to it.”
The Blue House, as the office is known in English, also held an emergency national security meeting, which Yonhap noted Moon did not attend.
Following the bombing, the North Korean military, the Korean People’s Army (KPA), issued a statement asserting it was “fully ready to go into action.”
“Explicitly speaking once again, our army is on high alert to ensure a sure military guarantee for any external measures to be taken by the Party and the government,” the military’s General Staff said Tuesday.
The tensions preceding the bombing occurred swiftly. Last week, South Korea confirmed that North Korea had stopped answering phone calls on the direct line operating out of the Kaesong Liaison office. The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Pyongyang’s main propaganda outlet, declared that the “disgusting riff-raff” sending banned news and food into North Korea had triggered the decision to cut diplomatic ties. Shortly thereafter, Pyongyang published a statement from Kim Yo-jong, also believed to be one of North Korea’s most powerful political figures, declaring an end to diplomacy and threatening military action.
Prior to being elevated as the voice of the country in the past two weeks, Kim Jong-un has used his sister as a diplomat, sending her to the 2018 Winter Olympics, and as head of North Korea’s “Propaganda and Agitation Department.”
Yonhap quoted experts on Tuesday attempting to explain the sudden violence, who concluded that North Korea’s internal situation after years of enduring the strictest economic sanctions in modern history and a likely coronavirus outbreak has led leaders to find a “distraction” to keep the people at bay.
“For North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, everything seems to be going awry, from his efforts for a turnaround in nuclear talks with the U.S. to his economic drive and to his push to put the pandemic under control,” Nam Chang-hee, a diplomacy professor at Inha University, told Yonhap. “To put it simply, it is a failure for the North Korean leader, and he might want to shift the blame to the South or deflect criticism. For the North, the South may be an easy target while it may feel cautious to direct its grievances to the U.S.”