In an escalation of tensions North Korea has demolished an empty inter-Korean liaison office in the North Korean border city of Kaesong at 2:49 PM local time today. The demolition follows increasingly aggressive rhetoric from North Korea in recent days.
The demolition of the liaison office was confirmed by both North and South Korea. The South Korean military has since released a video of the demolition, showing the explosion that destroyed the office building as well as the facade of a high-rise building behind it.
North Korean state media had reported on Saturday that Kim Yo-jong, sister of current North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, had threatened the destruction of the office, saying:
“Before long, a tragic scene of the useless north-south joint liaison office completely collapsed would be seen.”
In a news release made after the demolition, the North Korean state-run Korean Central News Agency described the demolition as in line with “the mindset of the enraged people to surely force human scum and those who have sheltered the scum to pay dearly for their crimes”.
Hours before the demolition, North Korean state media had broadcast a statement from the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army claiming that they had been studying an “action plan” to re-enter and fortify areas previously demilitarized under a 2018 inter-Korean agreement.
The demolition of the liaison office is the latest in a series of provocations made by North Korea. North Korea announced last Tuesday that it would sever North Korea-South Korea hotlines following continued activity by South Korean defector groups. Defectors from North Korea have sent balloons carrying propaganda leaflets, radios, Bibles or USB drives with South Korean media on them for over a decade, but these activities had not elicited such a vigorous response previously.
South Korean deputy national security advisor Kim You-geun condemned the demolition in a briefing, saying that the demolition “broke the expectations of all people who hope for the development of inter-Korean relations and lasting peace on the peninsula”. He added that the South Korean government was “making clear that the North is entirely responsible for all the consequences this might cause”.
The liaison office had been set up in 2018, with South Korea spending at least 9.78 billion won ($8.6 million) to renovate the building. However, North Korean representatives left the office following the failure of the United States-North Korean Hanoi Summit in late February 2019. South Korean representatives were recalled in January this year following the arrival of the Coronavirus pandemic in South Korea, leaving the office empty.
While the demolition is a symbolic blow to South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s aspirations for better inter-Korean ties, it is uncertain as to what the impetus for this latest series of provocations is. Analysts have theorized several possible causes, including moves to build the stature of Kim Yo-jong, seeking attention for US sanctions relief during the Coronavirus crisis or pressuring the South Korean government into pushing forward inter-Korean economic cooperation programs.