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Tension in Korean Peninsula

Tension in Korean Peninsula

Context:

North Korea, after a period of relative quiet, is once again in the headlines with the dramatic demolition of the Inter-Korean Liaison Office in the city of Kaesong, just north of the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas.

Background

  • The joint liaison office was refurbished at considerable cost to South Korea following the 2018 inter-Korean Summit and was intended to function as a virtual embassy between the two nations.
  • The demolition of the joint liaison office follows a recent deterioration in relations between Pyongyang and Seoul and occurred just hours after Pyongyang threatened to engage in military action at the border with South Korea.
  • Tensions between the two countries had increased after Pyongyang objected to activists and defectors in South Korea sending anti-North Korean propaganda leaflets, rice and Bibles using balloons across the border into North Korean territory, and had cut off communication with Seoul.

Summary of the Debate

Current Situation in the Korean Peninsular

  • Pyongyang has announced cutting off its all communication with Seoul. It called South Korea the ‘enemy’ and warned that similar actions can be taken in the future.
  • North Korea is frustrated at South Korea’s inability to revive, under US pressure, inter-Korean economic projects that had been beneficial to Pyongyang.
    • North Korean need regime survival and also wants economic progress for its citizen.
    • North Korea is also facing economic sanctions from the United States.
    • South Korea wants to extend the help to North Korea but because of the U.S pressure, it’s not able to do so.
  • It is also speculative that the invisible and malign hand of China is also a reason behind the escalation in Korean Peninsula.
  • Some experts also believe that this break in communication maybe because of anti-DPRK propaganda being launched into North Korea from activists in South Korea.

Not the First time

  • This is not the first time that communication between North Korea and South Korea has temporarily ceased. Despite the conflict between the two countries, over the years, at least 49 hotlines have been established between Seoul and Pyongyang to facilitate diplomatic talks, reduce tensions and military conflict, to coordinate air and sea traffic as well as to engage in cross-border economic projects, etc.
    • These lines of communication were first established in the 1970s and have been updated since with modern technology.
  • When relations deteriorate between the two countries, these lines of communication are stopped between the two countries, till the situation improves.
    • The lines were last to cut in 2016 after diplomatic relations between Seoul and Pyongyang deteriorated, coinciding with Donald Trump becoming the US president.

What triggered Pyongyang?

  • Most recently, the focus of Pyongyang’s ire appears to be projects of activists and North Korean defectors in South Korea who send anti-DPRK leaflets across the border to North Korea.
  • Along with these propaganda leaflets, other items such as rice, medicines and Bibles have also been sent across by activists using balloons.
  • For several days before the lines of communication were cut, Pyongyang had expressed its anger at these actions and threatened to close an inter-Korean liaison office and other inter-Korean projects if Seoul did not stop the activists and defectors.
  • North Korea followed on its threats by closing communication lines in its inter-Korean liaison office and the hotlines between South Korea’s presidential office and North Korea’s leader. Communication lines between militaries of the two counties were also stopped.

Impact on the Region

  • North Korea and South Korea has one of the most volatile armed borders in the world.
    • The current regime of South Korea wants to take opposition together to negotiate with the USA for cooperation.
    • The opposition saw the current president of South Korea closer to the China.
  • Japan is also demanding the intervention of the U.S.A in the tension because the region has three nuclear powers and becomes one of the dangerous places in the world.
  • Russia has requested to both the countries to deescalate the tensions in the region.

Way Forward

  • Pyongyang is facing economic pressures particularly at a time when the coronavirus outbreak has impacted its economy. South Korean help can mitigate tensions.
  • This issue is a historic one, South Korea wants peace and maybe it is the time for Americans to come to the negotiating table and bring peace in the region.

Main points made by Guests:

1. S. R. Tayal, Former Ambassador:

  • North Korea determined the pace and agenda of all the negotiations going on between two Koreas.
  • It controls the agenda but cannot influence the outcomes.
  • North Korea is not satisfied as it is facing economic sanctions.
  • South Korea wants to help North Korea financially but is not able to do so because of U.S pressure.
  • USA wants to denuclearise the region. 

2. Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, Foreign Editor, Hindustan Times :

  • Before Trump, Americans were already locked in a certain position regarding this issue.
  • They slapped sanctions and take other diplomatic routes to denuclearise the area and breaking down the reactors and missile programs of North Korea.
  • Trump followed the theory of hardliners but now doesn’t seem interested on the issue.

3. Sanjay Kumar, Gangwon Research Institute of Korean Studies:

  • Civic groups in South Korea are not satisfied with the diplomacy of its President.
  • They are not happy with the Panmunjom Declaration.
  • The young generation doesn’t want some kind of help from North Korea.
  • The current regime of South Korea wants to take opposition together to negotiate with the U.S.A for cooperation.
  • The current regime is criticized by the opposition to have closer relations with China.

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