North Korea has suspended plans for military action against South Korea at a Central Military Commission meeting chaired by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday, Rodong Sinmun reported Wednesday. It is 19 days after Kim Yo Jong issued a statement condemning South Korea for its failure to stop activists from sending leaflets with anti-North Korean messages over the border on June 4. Pyongyang started dismantling loudspeakers along the border on Sunday, while the media stopped slandering the South Korean government.
The change in its stance came after the United States sent strategic bombers and three nuclear-powered aircraft carriers near the Korean Peninsula. It flew B-52 strategic bombers three times over the last week. Each of them served as a warning, being sent every time the North ratcheted up its rhetoric. In addition, the South Korean government has issued a warning against North Korea in response to Kim Jo Jong’s remarks, showing its willingness to fight back, and it appears such unusual response has also affected its decision to pull back.
North Korea had two goals by escalating tensions: A change in the stance of the United States and South Korea’s firm action to stop the sending of anti-regime leaflets. It has probably concluded that, by blowing up the inter-Korean liaison office located in the North, it successfully pressured South Korea to serve as a bridge between Washington and Pyongyang without directly targeting the United States.
Expressing the wish to go back to June 2018, a State Department official said Tuesday that the doors are open and urged the resumption of talks to continue with the agreement signed at the 2018 Singapore summit. Meanwhile, the State Department has confirmed in its compliance report that North Korea still pursues nuclear weapons and international sanctions against the regime will remain until it becomes denuclearized. This sends out a clear message to Pyongyang that it will have to be committed to denuclearization and come to the negotiating table if it wants a way out.
The sudden de-escalation in rhetoric is a relief. However, we must remember that its plans for military action have been suspended, not cancelled. The crisis is put on hold, and this should not be understood as an early sign of improving relations between the two Koreas. The bilateral relations can only be normalized when South Korea handles North Korea-related issues based on principals, as opposed to trying to soothe its neighbor with railway projects or the resumption of tours. The South Korean government should hold the North accountable for blowing up the joint liaison office so that it will not dare to escalate tensions like this again.
The series of recent events just confirm that peace on the Korean Peninsula can be achieved only when the alliance between South Korea and the United States works to discourage North Korea to increase tensions. This is why it is important to reinforce the alliance with Washington, which has become loose due to different approaches to denuclearization, and start to work closely together again.