On Sunday, we learned that North Korean tyrant Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, had been placed in charge of the nation’s relationship with their South Korean neighbors. Her first act was to declare that she would order the military to take “measures” as required to stop the South Koreans from doing terrible things like floating leaflets over the border or something. She followed that up by blowing up the liaison office building the two countries had established in Kaesong. Nobody was injured because the building was empty and they’d previously threatened to get rid of it anyway, but the message being sent seemed clear.
Now, only hours after the detonation, we’ve learned that the North is sending back all the troops they pulled out of several border crossing areas. So I suppose the era of peace, love and flowers between the two Koreas and their hopes for reunification of the peninsula have been dashed. Or at least for the moment, anyway.
North Korea said Wednesday it will redeploy troops to now-shuttered inter-Korean cooperation sites, reinstall guard posts and resume military exercises at front-line areas, nullifying the landmark tension-reducing deals reached with South Korea just two years ago.
The announcement came a day after North Korea destroyed an inter-Korean liaison office in a choreographed display of anger that puts pressure on Washington and Seoul amid deadlocked nuclear diplomacy. The demolition was the most provocative act by North Korea since it entered nuclear talks in 2018, though the building in its border town of Kaesong was empty and the North had previously signaled plans to blow it up.
The North’s General Staff said military units will be deployed to the Diamond Mountain resort and the Kaesong industrial complex, both just north of the heavily fortified border. Those sites, once symbols of inter-Korean cooperation, have been shuttered for years due to inter-Korean disputes and the economic sanctions imposed on North Korea because of its nuclear program.
As usual, we should view this news in the larger context of Kim’s family and their relationship with both South Korea and the United States. This approach can be modified a bit this year to include what little we know about the shifting dynamics involving Kim’s health issues and his possible line of succession.
There are several reasons why Kim might think there was a potential benefit to taking all of these aggressive and very public measures. One possibility is that he wants to give his people the impression that his sister is ready and willing to bring down the iron fist of the regime and that she could potentially rule – dare I say it – “like a man.” North Korea isn’t exactly known for its pro-women policies and seeing females in positions of power is rare. The various warlords who might begin revolting if a power vacuum were to appear may be the intended audience for these displays. If Kim Yo Jong is seen as an aggressive, powerful figure who is willing to unleash hellfire on the regime’s perceived enemies, a transition might be made smoother.
There’s also the matter of the stalled negotiations with the United States to consider. Kim Jong-un very badly would like to see his negotiations with Donald Trump result in significant reductions in the sanctions currently being imposed on his nation and most of his diplomats. Trump has repeatedly made it clear that he doesn’t plan on offering any concessions until there’s a verifiable reduction in Kim’s tactical weapons and ICBM stockpiles. Since the diminutive dictator clearly doesn’t want to give up his toys, he probably thinks that aggressive threats like these might shake President Trump up enough to give some ground.
Good luck with that. One thing Donald Trump despises more than anything else is the perception of him being weak on anything. He’s staked out his terms for this deal, and if Kim doesn’t make the first move, he’s unlikely to toss him a bone.
Assuming the North Korean troops take up their old stations, what we’re probably witnessing is little more than a return to the status quo we were familiar with before the first summit between Trump and Kim. While not welcome news, it’s still something that we know how to deal with, having done so for decades. That will probably be followed by more nuclear tests and missile launches, which Trump can then sadly shake his head over, expressing his “disappointment” in Kim’s failed leadership.