Remnants of North Korea's balloons filled with trash are scattered in front of the Incheon Meteorological Observatory in Jeonjeon, Jung-gu, Incheon, South Korea, on June 2, 2024. (Yonhap News)

The South Korean military has resumed loudspeaker broadcasts toward the North in response to North Korea’s launch of trash-laden balloons into the South. The level of North Korean provocations is rising, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s powerful sister, Kim Yo Jong, threatening a new response to South Korea’s launch of leaflets into the North and loudspeaker broadcasts.

In fact, Kim said Sunday, “If the ROK simultaneously carries out the leaflet scattering and loudspeaker broadcasting provocation over the border, it will undoubtedly witness the new counteraction of the DPRK.”

Daily NK recently interviewed a 40-something male North Korean worker in Russia, A, and a 50-something female defector living in China, B, what they thought about Kim’s threats against the South, which they had learned about through various ways. They claimed that even North Koreans think Kim’s statements and the North’s actions against the South are nonsensical.

Opinions about Kim’s remarks

Daily NK: Kim Yo Jong said the South would witness a new response from the North if Seoul simultaneously launched leaflets into the North and conducted loudspeaker broadcasts. What do you think of this statement? And what do people inside North Korea think about it?

A: It’s shameful. Even Russians who are friendly to North Korea mock us (North Korean workers in Russia) and say, “North Korea is engaged in such filthy behavior that is unseen in the world, and it’s nonsense that over 20 million people are just watching what Kim Yo Jong is doing.” If people inside North Korea knew what was happening, they wouldn’t welcome it. In fact, Kim’s comments will make North Koreans feel insecure.

B: Kim Yo Jong’s comments are hardly surprising. They create a climate of fear inside North Korea by telling us that the political situation is tense. But North Koreans have long been used to it. Even the government knows that such comments are ineffective in uniting the people around the regime. 

Opinions about Kim’s threat of additional responses

Daily NK: What do you think the “new counteraction” mentioned by Kim will be?

A: I think the North is likely to start a military conflict because of its pride in being a nuclear power. For the state, an armed conflict is an optimal opportunity to maximize the wariness of the South by creating public insecurity as if a war were about to break out.

B: North Korea could use force. The situation between the two Koreas will worsen and the state will push the people to be ready for all-out public mobilization. In the end, the discontent of the people who are struggling to survive will only increase.

Opinions about launching trash-laden balloons into the South

Daily NK: Kim claimed that the North has sent about 1,400 balloons carrying 7.5 tons of wastepaper across the border. What do you think of these trash balloon launches, and what do North Koreans think of them?

A: These actions are really absurd. For a country that doesn’t have night soil, we would run out of material even if we collected it nationwide. I have heard that we have even been sending fertilizer, but when we hold fertilizer collection campaigns in North Korea at the beginning of each year, we sometimes have to buy it because we can’t meet the quotas. I wish we wouldn’t waste fertilizer by sending it to South Korea, but instead use it to fertilize the fields so that agriculture can flourish and we can put food on people’s tables.

B: When I called North Korea, I was told that now, as part of a recycling policy, people have to sell every scrap of paper or fabric to the government. But even that won’t be enough if they keep sending the stuff to South Korea. The authorities urge people to recycle every day, but if the public knew that the state was wasting their recycled resources by flying them to South Korea, they’d be angry.

Opinions about the restart of loudspeaker broadcasts

Daily NK: The South Korean military restarted loudspeaker broadcasts against the North for the first time in six years in response to the North’s trash balloon launches. How will North Koreans respond to this? What impact will the broadcasts have on North Koreans?

A: If they resume loudspeaker broadcasts, soldiers and civilians along the front will hear them and spread what they hear throughout the country. If they do, the leadership will feel very insecure. These broadcasts can awaken the people to the lies of the Workers’ Party and the state. We (overseas laborers) also felt betrayed when we learned that North Korea was lying from the first moment we set foot abroad. But I’m returning (to North Korea) because I can’t defect. My family is being held hostage at home. But even if I return to the North, I’ll continue to believe that the state’s propaganda is a lie. So the state is likely to step up controls and inspections to prevent the content of these broadcasts from spreading from the frontlines.

B: The loudspeaker broadcasts will have a pretty big impact on North Koreans. They will expose North Koreans to information from the outside world and make them distrust the state’s propaganda. The state will conduct intensive ideological indoctrination and propaganda to stop this.

Opinions about North Korea’s strategy toward the South

Daily NK: Why do you think North Korea has adopted such a hardline attitude toward the South recently? And what do you think this strategy will bring the North in the long run?

A: I think the North is taking a hard line against the South for the sake of internal cohesion. But in the long run, I think this strategy will harm the state. Launching garbage-laden balloons – a laughing stock even among friendly Russians – is going too far, and if it leads to an armed conflict, external pressure will only increase.

B: I think it’s a strategy to channel internal discontent outward. However, if North Korea continues this behavior, it will clearly harm the state. Even Chinese people call Kim Yo Jong a “louse,” and if this behavior continues, won’t the world label North Korea as a crazy country even more?

Daily NK works with a network of sources living in North Korea, China, and elsewhere. Their identities remain anonymous for security reasons. For more information about Daily NK’s network of reporting partners and information-gathering activities, please visit our FAQ page here.

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