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Seoul must brace for Pyongyang’s growing hostility

Posted July. 12, 2023 07:58,   

Updated July. 12, 2023 07:58


North Korea is escalating tensions by threatening a retaliatory response against the "unauthorized intrusion" of U.S. military reconnaissance aircraft. The spokesperson for the Ministry of National Defense said on Monday morning that U.S. reconnaissance aircraft had violated North Korean airspace for eight consecutive days and mentioned the possibility of "shooting them down," and later that night, Kim Yo Jong, the deputy director of the North Korean Workers' Party, stepped up and stated that the US reconnaissance aircraft had once again violated the "economic zone airspace," prompting a response from fighter jets, and threatened that "a shocking incident will likely occur." On Tuesday, Kim Yo Jong directed a message toward the "military authorities of South Korea," warning them not to meddle in issues between the U.S. and North Korean military.

North Korea's threats against U.S. military aircraft indicate a high possibility of seeking a pretext for new provocations, following the embarrassment caused by recent failed military satellite launches. It may also be a survival strategy to counter the constant appearance of U.S. strategic assets, which has become a headache for the communist regime. However, unlike territorial airspace, North Korea's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) recognizes the freedom of flight, and the U.S. reconnaissance aircraft's flight path was reportedly within the usual range. There may be other motives behind the sudden assertion, accompanied by references to past shoot-down incidents and threats. Moreover, North Korea, which brazenly fired missiles into Japan's EEZ in the past, is by no means in a position to make such claims.

Rather than North Korea's repetitive threatening tactics, what stands out is its attempt to redefine inter-Korean relations. North Korea now refers to South Korea as the "Republic of Korea" instead of the previous term, "South Korea," clearly indicating its intention to view the relationship between the two countries as nation-to-nation and even hostile. On Monday, Kim Yo Jong mixed terms like "traitorous military authorities of South Korea," "Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Republic of Korea," and "a lowly bunch of the Republic of Korea," and the next day, she only used the term "Republic of Korea" without mentioning "South Korea." Recently, when the news of Hyundai Group Chairman's plan to visit North Korea came out, North Korea rejected the proposal through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs rather instead of organizations dedicated to South Korean affairs like the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland.

If the North's use of the term "Republic of Korea" stems from a respectful attitude towards its counterpart, it would be a positive development. However, the intentions behind it are likely the opposite. In the past, North Korea always emphasized "between our people." However, since the breakdown of U.S.-North Korea negotiations in 2019, North Korea has erased the concept of "one people." The secretary position for inter-Korean affairs has disappeared from the party's Secretariat, and the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland is nowhere to be seen. Now, North Korea regards the Republic of Korea as an "enemy foreign country," and their actions and conspiracies against it remain unpredictable. It would be crucial for Seoul to remain vigilant and further strengthen preparedness against Pyongyang.