North Korea warned Seoul yesterday that the Korean Peninsula was entering “a state of war” and threatened to shut down a factory complex that is the last major symbol of inter-Korean cooperation.
Analysts say a full-scale conflict is extremely unlikely, saying that the Korean Peninsula has remained in a technical state of war for 60 years.
However, the North’s continued threats toward Seoul and Washington, including a vow to launch a nuclear strike, have raised worries that a misjudgement could lead to a clash.
The Kaesong industrial park, which is run with North Korean labor and South Korean know-how, has been operating normally, despite Pyongyang shutting down a communications channel typically used to coordinate travel by South Korean workers to and from the park just across the border in North Korea. The rivals are now coordinating the travel indirectly, through an office at Kaesong that has outside lines to South Korea.
However, an identified spokesman for the North’s office controlling Kaesong said yesterday that it would close the factory park if South Korea continued to undermine its dignity.
Pyongyang expressed anger over media reports that suggested the factory remained open because it was a source of hard currency for the impoverished North. Dozens of South Korean firms run factories in the border town of Kaesong. Using North Korea’s cheap, efficient labor, the Kaesong complex produced US$470 million worth of goods last year.
North Korea has previously made such threats about Kaesong without acting on them, and recent weeks have seen a torrent of bellicose rhetoric from Pyongyang. North Korea is angry about annual South Korea-US military drills and new UN sanctions over its nuclear test last month.
North Korea’s threats are seen as efforts to provoke the new government in Seoul, led by South Korean President Park Geun-hye, to change its policies toward Pyongyang, and to win diplomatic talks with Washington that could get it more aid.
North Korea’s moves are also seen as ways to build domestic unity as young North Korean leader Kim Jong-un strengthens his military credentials.
On Thursday, US military officials revealed that two B-2 stealth bombers dropped dummy munitions on front lines as part of drills with South Korean troops. Hours later, Kim ordered his generals to put rockets on standby and threatened to strike US targets if provoked.
North Korea said in a statement yesterday that it would deal with South Korea according to “wartime regulations” and would retaliate against any provocations by the US and South Korea without notice.