June 25, 2020 10:57
South Korea reacted cautiously on Wednesday to an announcement by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that he was calling off a military buildup at the border.
Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo told lawmakers that North Korea will have to "completely call off" its threats before any progress can be made and the government will "monitor" the situation.
The ruling Democratic Party's chairman Lee Hae-chan was more enthusiastic, saying "Peace on the Korean Peninsula can only guarantee the survival of the Korean people" and urged the two Koreas to "sit down face to face again for constructive dialogue."
Kim issued the order to stand down in his first public appearance in 16 days as walls of propaganda loudspeakers that had been re-installed along the heavily armed border were dismantled.
North Korean state media also took down their most vociferous attacks on South Korea from the last few weeks, when Kim let his sister Yo-jong play the bad cop and threaten fire and fury.
State media reported that Kim ordered a halt to military action plans against South Korea during an online meeting ahead of a big Workers Party gathering.
Earlier in the week, the North had vowed to re-deploy soldiers to the Mt. Kumgang resort, Kaesong Industrial Complex and guard posts along the demilitarized zone as well as sending its own propaganda leaflets to South Korea.
The sudden U-turn prompted some head-scratching among North Korea watchers, although they are used to North Korean brinkmanship.
Nam Sung-wook at Korea University said the North "achieved its goal of quelling public discontent by whipping up emotions against South Korea and getting the South to crack down on activists who send propaganda leaflets across the border."
Kim also succeeded in capturing the attention of the international community. The U.S., which was slow to respond to the North's threats as it was preoccupied with the coronavirus epidemic and mass protests over the police killing of George Floyd, finally responded on June 9 and had deployed three aircraft carriers and nuclear bombers to the western Pacific.
China may also have intervened in the unfolding crisis with signs of a surge in cross-border trade last month. One former high-ranking diplomat said, "North Korea may have achieved some urgent results but still faces international sanctions. It will always hold South Korea hostage because it is the weakest link."
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