North Korea has suspended plans to increase military pressure against South Korea, after weeks of rapidly deteriorating ties which included blowing up a joint liaison office used for talks between the two sides.
The decision comes following a meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the central military commission on Tuesday, which “took stock of the prevailing situation,” according to North Korean media Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
Possible military plans included the North deploying units into the Mount Kumgang tourist area and the Kaesong Industrial Zone, which borders the South, and setting up police posts that had previously been withdrawn from the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two countries “to strengthen the guard over the front line,” according to previous reports in KCNA.
No reason was given for the apparent pull back.
The North had signaled its initial plans to increase military pressure after a group of defectors in the South used balloons to send anti-North Korean leaflets north of the DMZ.
North Korea claimed the leaflets violated the deal Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in struck in 2018 at their first summit, when both leaders agreed to cease “all hostile acts and eliminating their means, including broadcasting through loudspeakers and distribution of leaflets” along their shared border.
On Monday night, a defectors’ group in South Korea sent a further 500,000 leaflets about “the truth of the Korean War” into the North.
The group said it also sent 500 booklets about “successful South Korea,” 2,000 American one-dollar bills and 1,000 SD cards, using the 20 balloons.
In retaliation to the initial leaflet drop, North Korea cut communication lines with the South and blew up the joint liaison office, which is located in the town of Kaesong just north of the DMZ.
While the office had been shut because of coronavirus and South Korean staff had not been in the building since – the destruction was symbolic as the office was meant to facilitate dialogue between the two countries.
As well as threatening increased military pressure, the Korean People’s Army reinstalled loudspeakers at the border and indicated it would launch a propaganda campaign of its own by sending millions of leaflets into the South.
While the North has framed its actions over the past few weeks as retaliatory, Pyongyang has for months voiced displeasure that its diplomacy with South Korea and the United States has not yielded relief from sanctions crippling the North Korean economy.
Talks between the countries had stalled in the months after three inter-Korean summits in 2018. And experts say it’s possible North Korea is using the current standoff to manufacture a crisis in order to gain leverage in any future negotiations, a play it has employed previously in diplomatic talks.
CNN’s Yoonjung Seo, Jake Kwon and Joshua Berlinger contributed reporting.