The North Korean government has followed the lead of its Military Command in using a joint statement to warn the South of a ¡®crusade of retaliation¡¯, with one official from the South Korean government describing the situation now as ¡®very serious¡¯.
In the past there have been several cases where North Korea has made a huge issue of any reference to the ruling Kim family, using government agencies and media organizations to react with stern promises of revenge for insulting the nation¡¯s ¡®supreme dignity¡¯.
On April 15, 2010, a spokesperson from the National Defense Commission referred to a ¡®crusade of retaliation¡¯, a move which was followed by the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland (CPRF), another government propaganda outlet, making further repeated threats to South Korea. On June 29 last year, the Military Command again warned of a ¡®crusade of retaliation¡¯ in response to slogans hung up by South Korean frontline forces engaged in training exercises.
The latest aggressive response from North Korea has been particularly severe, a reaction to what it calls ¡®a blight on the nation¡¯s supreme dignity¡¯ which began in February this year when South Korean troops in Incheon displayed a slogan criticizing the late Kim Jong Il. At the beginning of March, North Korean authorities held a military rally in Pyongyang declaring an ¡®indiscriminate crusade¡¯ as retribution for the attack on its ¡®supreme dignity¡¯, and since then has been mobilizing its media outlets to heap even more scorn on South Korea.
The North Korean response to South Korean President Lee Myung Bak¡¯s radio speech on April 16 fits largely into the same context. North Korea claims that Lee¡¯s references to ¡®accelerated isolation¡¯ were an ¡°insult that the leader, the system and the people cannot stand for¡± and ¡°a heinous, grave provocation inviting wrath.¡±
North Korea experts have been closely observing the pattern of provocation towards South Korea since Kim Jong Eun made his first public appearance, even before becoming the nation¡¯s leader. The sinking of the Cheonan corvette in March 2010 and the attack on Yeonpyeong Island in November of the same year both came following references made by the Military Command, the National Defense Commission and the CPRF to ¡®revenge¡¯ and ¡®crusades¡¯.
The Cheonan sinking occurred little more than two months after threatening a retaliatory crusade, while the Yeonpyeong Island shelling was preceded on September 26 and October 15 of that year by threats of ¡®retaliation¡¯ from the CPRF. In the lead-up to political events marking Kim Il Sung¡¯s birthday on April 15 North Korea largely refrained from verbal aggression, but recent days have seen repeated talk of so-called retaliation, crusades and revenge surface once again.
Son Gwang Joo, senior researcher at the Gyeonggi Research Institute told Daily NK that ¡°Now they have finished shoring up the Kim Jong Eun system they feel the need to make a display of their strength. Finishing the reshuffle of important figures in the regime as well as loyalty contests playing on Party cadres¡¯ self-indulgence may result in further provocations.¡±
Chief researcher at the Sejong Institute, Jeong Seong Jang added that ¡°It¡¯s all going to the usual schedule of provocations aimed at South Korea.¡± Jeong also said that ¡°Up until now the regime hasn¡¯t had the ability to do that because it has been busy with preparations for Kim Jong Eun¡¯s coronation. Now that they¡¯ve finished the necessary events there¡¯s a possibility they will engage in provocation.¡±
Jeong also agreed that competition for loyalty amongst the military may lead to provocations.
Some experts are warning of the possibility of further provocations at the usual conflict hotspots, including naval provocations in the East Sea; at Imjingak, the site of many propaganda leaflet drops; and across the land border itself.
However, there are others who are more skeptical about the prospect of physical provocations. Some say that the recent rocket launch has already soured North Korea¡¯s relationship with China and that preparations for more severe sanctions being pushed by the United States through the UN Security Council will make it difficult to justify any more provocations for the time being. There also remains some possibility that South Korea¡¯s announcement of new cruise missiles earlier this week and the declaration that it is willing to use them may convince North Korea to think twice about the ramifications of any more acts of aggression, at least for now.
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