WASHINGTON DC – North Korea’s state media outlet KCNA has issued a new series of messages on its news homepage warning of a “great war for national reunification.” The messages come after the North Korean ambassdor to the UN warned Monday that a “spark” could trigger a nuclear war and a South Korean fears of an impending provocation by Pyongyang.
Highlighted in green and in large font, the messages come just weeks after the mysterious disappearance of a similar series of threats on the KCNA site to “cut off the windpipes” of South Korea’s Lee Myung-bak government. The new warnings, displayed in a prominent location on the KCNA’s English and Korean homepages, warn:
This is not the first time belligerent rhetoric has been used against Seoul, with North Korea threatening to spill seas of blood and destroy imperialist lackeys for many years now. But while many will be familiar with these type of North Korean threats and dismiss them as mere bluster, this latest development comes amid increasing tensions on the Yellow Sea Border – an area which has witness several military incidents over the past few decade.
Of late, North Korean fishing vessels have been crossing the disputed “Northern Limit Line” with increasing frequency in a move that recently resulted in a military response from the South Korean navy. As such, in this context these warnings are particularly worrying.
With presidential elections forthcoming in South Korea, North Korea has made clear several times that it opposes the election of conservative candidate Park Geun-hye, the current front-runner. Drawing attention to the bloody history of her father’s dictatorial role in South Korea and her party’s “confrontational policy,” North Korean media has mentioned the elections some 770 times since April (up nearly five times). Taken in combination with the recent naval tensions, some suggest North Korean may be preparing an imminent provocation as a way of testing the Conservative party and increasing support for the pro-engagement liberal candidates.
As a result, it is possible that we will see North Korea try and impact these elections through an inter-Korean naval skirmish along the disputed Yellow Sea border area. Some suggest that a military provocation could help liberal candidates in the election, a group that North Korea prefers in power due to their historical preference of engaging Pyongyang with unconditional aid. This line of thinking believes that increased tensions may result in South Korean anxiety about Ms. Park’s military credentials and capacity to restrain North Korea in future.
Maritime “provocations” in the Yellow Sea are one of North Korea’s most favored attack formats, having been used in a series of naval clashes in June 2009, the sinking of the Cheonan in 2010, and most recently during the shelling of Yeonpyeong (2011). And while North Korea does have a record of threatening to turn Seoul into a “sea of flames” and regularly warns of a “holy war”, a recent analysis suggests that threats should not just simply be ignored.
KCNA have this year carried out a particularly aggressive media campaign focussed on defaming South Korean leader Lee-Myung Bak. As mentioned, these new warnings come several week’s after KCNA removing a similar series of messages :
Just like the above warnings, the new green messages still link to a section of the KCNA website dedicated to chronicling North Korea’s hatred of the Lee Myung-bak regime. This section includes the series of cartoons (on April Fool’s day) that depicted Lee Myung-bak’s death in sixteen different ways, news of competitions being held in Pyongyang to think up the most gruesome way of killing him, and huge mass rallies held throughout North Korea to showcase the nation’s hatred for the S. Korean leader.
North Korea expert Aidan-Foster Carter wrote an extensive analysis on the KCNA hate campaign back in May, commenting on the tirade:
The current state of affairs is unprecedented. Pyongyang has always been a master of threats and insults, but it has spent the whole of 2012 hurling ever ruder and angrier jibes at ROK President Lee Myung-bak; plumbing the depths even by North Korean standards.
But while KCNA has been making significant efforts to detail its hatred of the Lee Myung-bak government, it has also been promoting starkly contrasting messaging when it comes to presenting Kim Jong Un. The new leader has been shown watching Disney shows, visiting theme parks, watching dolphin shows, and even working out at the gym. Although this mixed messaging seems stark, KCNA’s promotion of these recent activities and his marriage to former singer Ri Sol Ju could in one light be seen as a deliberate effort to improve the young leader’s standing among younger generations in South Korea, a group which may play a significant role in the forthcoming presidential elections. So by increasing inter-Korean tension’s while increasing Kim Jong Un’s “like-ability’, Pyongyang may be hoping to score on two electoral fronts.
In any case, the South Korean military has been ordered to prepare for future provocations and individual units already have the autonomy to respond militarily if needed. After being on the receiving end of so many lethal military attacks, it is easy to understand why South Korea has readied its military in such a way. But after South Korean marines mistakingly shot at a civilian airliner believing it to be an attacking North Korean fighter, the potential for significant instability in the event of any military incident is clear.
Picture by KCNA