The South Korean Ministry of National Defense said it regretted North Korea’s coastal artillery drills that took place on Saturday just 10 kilometers off the Northern Limit Line (NLL) on Changrin Island near Baengnyeong Island, adding that the “drills were in violation of the 9/19 military agreement.” The South Korean government took two days to express its regret, and it was done over a regular phone call that is made twice a day through a communications line in the West Sea district. In addition, it publicized the news only after they were covered by the North Korean media two days after the drills were conducted.
Saturday was the 9th anniversary of Pyongyang’s attack on Yeonpyeong Island and a day after Seoul announced its decision to stay in the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) which the North had opposed. The drills are seen as Pyongyang’s effort to demonstrate its dissatisfaction at Seoul’s recent decision, and it chose the opening day of the ASEAN-South Korea Commemorative Summit to break the news to make sure they are shared with the leaders of 10 Asian nations.
The North’s brazen violation of the agreement stems from the South Korean government’s lukewarm responses to its past provocations. In May, the Ministry of National Defense avoided using the word “missile” when North Korea launched the Iskander-class short-range ballistic missiles describing them as “guided missiles.” It also never condoned the North conducting the 12 short- and mid-range missile and multiple rocket launcher drills this year. During his U.N. speech in September, President Moon Jae-in said there was no violation of the military agreement only to be proven wrong a few months later.
North Korea is becoming increasingly disrespectful to South Korea while the Moon administration has maintained its friendly stance such as by sending two North Korean fishermen back to the North earlier this month. Pyongyang published President Moon’s letter asking for sending a special envoy if North Korean leader Kim Jong Un cannot make it, which is basically a public refusal to see South Korea as its conversation partner. Everyone wants to see improved inter-Korean relations. However, with the South Korean government trying not to upset the North, North Korea is escalating tensions and provocations to the point it can threaten people’s lives and safety. The threat to security has crept up while the South Korea government was holding on to the bilateral military agreement that is effectively dead.