North Korea threatened yesterday to break off all relations with South Korea if its new conservative government continues what the North called a policy of reckless confrontation with Pyongyang.
The warning, issued in a commentary carried in the North’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper, means Pyongyang could terminate civilian exchanges with the South, including a tourism program and a joint factory park, which have continued despite a freeze in government-level ties.
The North made a similar threat during military talks with the South earlier this month, saying it would expel South Koreans from the tourism and industrial projects if propaganda leaflets critical of Pyongyang keep arriving over the border.
North Korea has been unhappy with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who took office in February with a pledge to get tough on the rival state — a stance that contrasted with that of his two liberal predecessors who aggressively sought reconciliation by providing massive aid to the impoverished nation.
If the South “keeps to the road of reckless confrontation with the [North], defaming its dignity despite its repeated warnings, this will compel it to make a crucial decision including the total freeze of the North-South relations,” the commentary said.
South Korea played down the threat, and urged the North to resolve problems through dialogue.
“It does not mean the North will take steps immediately,” said Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon. “We will monitor the situation regarding this, and there is no change in the government’s intention to improve South-North relations through dialogue.”
The warning also came days after North Korea resumed a stalled nuclear disarmament process after the US removed it from a terrorism blacklist, and amid lingering questions about the health of the North’s leader Kim Jong-il.
Analysts said the North is increasing pressure on Seoul to change its policy toward Pyongyang, now that the nuclear impasse with the US has been resolved.
“The North is putting strong pressure on our government as its relations with the United States are improving and its negotiating power is gaining strength,” said Hong Hyun-ik, an expert at the security think tank Sejong Institute.
“It’s a sort of brinksmanship strategy,” he said.
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