April 23, 2013 09:22
The North Korean regime has finally fallen victim to the 24-hour news cycle after commanding prominent positions in the global media for several weeks. The Boston Marathon bombings and the devastating earthquake in China's Sichuan province have pushed Pyongyang's belligerent antics off the front pages.
Pyongyang succeeded over the last six to seven weeks in creating tension in the Korean Peninsula because it drew attention from Washington and Beijing with histrionics like declaring the armistice that ended the Korean War null and void, threatening a preemptive nuclear strike and suspending operations at the inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex.
But a South Korean official on Monday said, "The regime must be upset because the coverage of the bombings and earthquake in the U.S. and Chinese media drowned out stories about North Korea right after the regime dismissed offers of dialogue from Seoul and Washington, evidently in hope of a better deal."
North Korea last week started to tone down its rhetoric, and Kim Jong-un's public activities dropped from 22 in March to a mere two this month. The number of irate statements from various public organizations also fell from two to three a day to one or two a day last week.
A South Korean military source confirmed that the North's threats do not seem to be backed up by any unusual troop movements in the North. But Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok in a press briefing pointed out that the North "doesn't seem to have withdrawn a ballistic missile from the east coast," where it has apparently been preparing for a test launch. "The situation will normalize only if it's withdrawn," Kim added.
Some pundits believe North Korea could yet carry out a fresh provocation to recapture the world's attention.
The fate of the Kaesong Industrial Complex remains undecided. An informed source said when food for the 180 South Korean staffers who remain there runs out in a couple of weeks, "we'll have no choice but to pull all of them out, which could mean that the complex will be shut for good."
President Park Geun-hye expressed concerns in a meeting with senior presidential secretaries at Cheong Wa Dae. "I'm worried that the future of the Kaesong Industrial Complex is becoming gloomier if South Korean businesses operating there lose credibility because they can't fulfill their contracts," she said. "The inter-Korean agreement is the basis for a solution. Trust can be built only when the basic promise is kept. Only then can we make new promises."
But the global media weathervanes are turning. NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, sometimes nicknamed "war starter" because of his habit of traveling wherever a war seems likely to break out, left South Korea last Thursday.
Engel tweeted, "Left South Korea after an interesting trip. Always impressed with their resolve when faced with adversity. Great people." He was dispatched here late last month.
ABC News' Martha Raddatz, who had described the Korean situation from the truce village of Panmunjom as "very serious," also packed her bags and went to Boston. CNN's conflict correspondent Jim Clancy is still in South Korea but reports more rarely.
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