Not afraid, just disappointedNorth Korea has threatened to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire,” resorting to extreme inflammatory talk for the first time in 16 years.
The General Staff of the North Korean People’s Army, in a statement over the weekend, claimed the South’s installation of loudspeakers to send propaganda messages to the North was a “declaration of war.” It warned that its military would not stop at a simple tit for tat, but would embark on a merciless ambush aimed at turning Seoul into a “sea of fire.”
Regardless of the circumstances, we cannot help feeling disheartened by the reality of inter-Korean relations today, engulfed in fiery war talk. Ironically, today marks a decade since the landmark first-ever summit between the two Koreas’ heads of state, pledging to end mistrust and confrontation and instead work toward peaceful and cooperative ties.
Inter-Korean relations have soured to their worst in a decade. The incumbent Lee Myung-bak administration may be partly to blame, having veered away from the previous unconditional engagement policy to stress quid pro quos and denuclearization before providing further economic aid and cooperation.
But North Korea is entirely at fault for freezing bilateral relations by attacking a South Korean Navy ship on a patrol mission off the west coast. An international joint investigation concluded that the North torpedoed the Cheonan, killing 46 sailors, yet Pyongyang instead blames the South for fabricating the report and vows to take retaliatory action. Its latest threat to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire” is in response to South Korea’s construction of dozens of propaganda loudspeakers along the border as part of punitive measures against the North’s attack on the Cheonan.
We now cannot rule out the possibility that the North will fire artillery at the loudspeakers if military authorities embark on the propaganda campaign. If the North does fire at the loudspeakers on the southern side, a skirmish or even a full-on military confrontation may take place. The government is now delaying the propaganda campaign fearing such a result.
But North Korea has us wrong if it believes it can split our society through war threats. In fact, we have become more unified. Opposition Democratic Party floor leader Park Jie-won, in a parliamentary address, called upon the North to prove it is not responsible for the Cheonan’s sinking or else stop talk of war.
The North must either prove its innocence or admit its guilt, apologize and punish those responsible for the attack. That is the only way to save what’s left between the two Koreas and revive the spirit behind the June 15, 2000, declaration for peace and cooperation.