N.K. suspends military action plans, halts threats against S. Korea

June 24, 2020

North Korea suspended “military action plans” against South Korea, removed propaganda loudspeakers reinstalled along the border just three days earlier and deleted anti-Seoul articles en masse from media outlets, a surprise about-face after weeks of harsh rhetoric and threats.

It was unclear what all these moves mean, including whether it means Pyongyang has decided to put its anger behind it, and if so, why it decided to do so after weeks of bellicose threats and rhetoric, including last week’s dramatic blowing up of a joint liaison office building.

Some experts said that the communist nation might be changing its tack on the belief that its bellicose rhetoric and action in recent weeks have achieved its intended impact and worrying further provocations could backfire.

Earlier in the day, the official Korean Central News Agency said that leader Kim Jong-un presided over a preliminary meeting of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party on Tuesday and decided to hold off on military action plans against the South.

The decision came as a surprise as the North had been widely expected to go ahead with a series of military actions, such as redeploying troops to border areas, which it has threatened to take in anger over Seoul’s failure to prevent anti-Pyongyang leafleting.

“At the preliminary meeting, the WPK Central Military Commission took stock of the prevailing situation and suspended the military action plans against the South brought for the fifth meeting of the Seventh Central Military Commission by the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army,” the KCNA said.

“The meeting examined agenda items of major military policy to be laid before the fifth meeting of the Seventh WPK Central Military Commission and made a study of a report and decisions, which will be submitted to the fifth meeting, and some documents carrying the state measures for further bolstering the war deterrent of the country,” the KCNA added.

It, however, did not provide details, such as the reason for the decision, nor did it say when a formal Central Military Commission meeting will be held.

During a parliamentary session, South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo called for the complete withdrawal of the North Korean military plans, rather than their temporary suspension.

His remarks drew criticism from Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of the North’s ruling party’s Central Committee.

“The South Korean ‘defense’ Ministry’s untimely slip of the tongue must not result in greater crisis in the north-south relations,” Kim said in a statement carried by the KCNA.

“It has to realize that self-control is the ‘key’ to tiding over the crisis,” he added.

But Kim noted that now is a “critical moment” when the North can predict the prospects of cross-border ties based on the Seoul’s “future attitude and approach” — remarks that raised hopes Pyongyang could shift away from its recent provocative streak.

Hours after the announcement of the suspension of the military plans, military officials said the North was removing some of the propaganda loudspeakers it installed earlier this week along the inter-Korean border. The installation was seen as the latest in a series of actions the North has taken related to the leafleting issue.

Propaganda media outlets of the North have also withdrawn articles critical of South Korea en masse. More than a dozen stories slamming Seoul over the leafleting issue were taken down from websites, such as DPRK Today and Meari.

In particular, DPRK Today ran six articles critical of South Korea earlier in the day, but they cannot be found as of now. Meari, another propaganda website, also appeared to have withdrawn all articles critical of South Korea that it posted earlier.

Some experts say the North might be taking a breather after a series of blistering rhetoric and tension-increasing actions after determining that such a hard-line approach has achieved an intended impact on strengthening internal unity in the face of the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

They added that the change might also have been based on concerns that more provocations could backfire by giving an excuse for South Korea and the United States to resume large-scale joint military exercises.

North Korea has recently ratcheted up tensions by taking retaliatory steps against South Korea over the leafleting issue. It has called South Korea an “enemy” and cut off all cross communication lines, threatening more “punishment” is coming.

Last week, it blew up an inter-Korean liaison office that was created in its border town of Kaesong as a result of a 2018 summit between the two Koreas.

Pyongyang has also said it will redeploy troops to border areas of Kaesong and Mount Kumgang, which were disarmed under inter-Korean agreements for joint business projects, and threatened to resume “all kinds of regular military exercises” near the border.

North Korea’s state media outlets earlier said that Pyongyang is preparing to send around 12 million anti-South Korea propaganda leaflets via some 3,000 balloons and other means in a tit-for-tat move against leaflets dispatched from the South.

Despite Seoul’s call against it, the North earlier said it has no intention to cancel its leafleting-sending plan cross the border, calling an inter-Korean agreement that bans such activity “a dead document.”

Observers said it has became unclear whether North Korea will push ahead with its plan to send anti-Seoul leaflets to the South after leader Kim decided to suspend all military action plans against is neighbor.