Update at 11:00 KST on Sunday: this article has been updated to include responses from South Korea’s government
North Korea’s next move in retaliation for South Korea’s failure to stop activists sending anti-regime leaflets into its territory will be entrusted to the Chief of the Staff of the army, top official Kim Yo Jong said in a statement on Saturday.
Following over a week of high-profile invective by Pyongyang against Seoul, Kim — speaking in her official capacity as first vice department director at the ruling party central committee — said that with the “power authorized” by her brother, DPRK leader Kim Jong Un, she asked the military to draw up plans for North Korea’s next move.
She said she had given instruction to “the department in charge of the affairs with enemy to decisively carry out the next action,” claiming to exercise power “authorized by the Supreme Leader, our Party and the state.”
Kim did not say precisely say what that may involve, however.
“If I drop a hint of our next plan the south Korean authorities are anxious about, the right to taking the next action against the enemy will be entrusted to the General Staff of our army,” the statement continued.
“Our army, too, will determine something for cooling down our people’s resentment and surely carry out it, I believe.”
She did say that Seoul should expect to see “a tragic scene of the useless north-south joint liaison office” at Kaesong being “completely collapsed” in the near future.
That facility was temporarily shut down in January due to COVID-19 prevention efforts, but the recent spat between the two Koreas has prompted the North to completely cut off all communication lines — including calls at the office.
South Korea’s Blue House on Sunday conveyed an emergency meeting of its National Security Council (NSC) to discuss “countermeasures” to the growing tension with the North.
Seoul’s unification ministry issued a statement in response to Kim’s remarks, saying it was assessing the current situation “sternly.”
“The South and the North must make effort to comply with all agreements between the South and North,” the statement continued.
The country’s defence ministry, too, said South Korea’s military would maintain a “firm readiness condition,” urging the North to comply with the September 2018 inter-Korean military agreement.
And while the threat remained ambiguous, experts agreed that North Korea was seeking to up the stakes for the South by raising the prospect of military action.
“While it’s unclear how much North Korea actually carries out its threats, perhaps this is intended to raise the prospect of some sort of military action in the DMZ/NLL,” Mintaro Oba, a former U.S. State Department official, told NK News.
Another said, however, that it remained in North Korea’s interest not to push things too far.
“Mentioning the army raises the stakes, serving up North Korea’s preferred angle on a plate to South Korean media. But at the same time, it goes without saying that this is another statement, not an action,” Chris Green, a contributing analyst to NK News’s sister site NK Pro, said.
“Action may very well follow, North Korea is not a paper tiger at this level, but it is clear that Pyongyang does not want to hurry things along or create the kind of uncertainty that might lead to uncontrollable situations.”
Kim has increasingly been at the forefront of North Korea’s new bid to raise inter-Korean tensions, having been listed as an author of many of some of the countries most hard-line comments.
Saturday’s statement once again referred to her as working as a “first vice department director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea,” though, as is convention, did not specify which department she is affiliated with.
Analysts previously told NK News she was likely now working for the United Front Department (UFD), which is tasked with everything from inter-Korean relations to subversion.
Her comments this weekend also referred to another strident statement by UFD head Jang Kum Chol on Friday, in which he said the North would soon take “painful” retaliation against the South.
South Korea has since North Korea first raised the issue moved to further crack down on activists sending anti-regime leaflets to the North, promising to ban, investigate, and punish the groups, some of which are led by North Korean defectors.
But Kim on Saturday dismissed those efforts as insincere.
“If the south Korean authorities have now capability and courage to carry out at once the thing they have failed to do for the past two years, why are the north-south relations still in stalemate like now?” she asked.
North Korean people are “unanimously” voicing their support for the state to take action against “riff-raff” who “dared hurt the absolute prestige of our Supreme Leader representing our country and its great dignity,” Kim Yo Jong claimed.
It is a “firm public opinion at home” that the “betrayers and human scum” should be forced to pay the price, she added.
“It is better to take a series of retaliatory actions, instead of releasing this kind of statement,” Kim said, hinting at an imminent provocative move from the North. “I feel it is high time to surely break with the south Korean authorities. Rubbish must be thrown into dustbin.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Update at 11:00 KST on Sunday: this article has been updated to include responses from South Korea's government
North Korea's next move in retaliation for South Korea's failure to stop activists sending anti-regime leaflets into its territory will be entrusted to the Chief of the Staff of the army, top official Kim Yo Jong said in a statement on Saturday.