North Korea’s warning to foreigners in South is second threat this week

North Korea advised foreigners in South Korea to evacuate the country today, claiming that a war is imminent:

Officials in Seoul said they saw no signs in the North of irregular military activity or preparations for war, and a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Seoul said there was no evidence of an imminent threat to U.S. citizens in South Korea.

Still, the North’s warning underscored how the secretive police state is taking increasingly unfamiliar measures to portray itself as a threat. Within the past week, North Korea, under 30-year-old leader Kim Jong Un, has temporarily shuttered a joint industrial park, announced the restart of a nuclear reactor that generates weapons-grade plutonium and told diplomats in Pyongyang that their safety couldn’t be guaranteed from this Wednesday. (Continue reading the article here, and find more here about how the current situation on the Korean Peninsula has developed.)

At WorldViews, Max Fisher explains the North’s motivations:

For years, North Korea has threatened the worst and, despite all of its apparent readiness, never gone through with it. So why does it keep going through these macabre performances? We can’t read Kim Jong Eun’s mind, but the most plausible explanation has to do with internal North Korean politics, with trying to set the tone for regional politics, and with forcing other countries (including the United States) to bear the costs of preventing its outbursts from sparking an unwanted war. ...

At the risk of insulting Kim Jong Eun, it helps to think of North Korea’s provocations as somewhat akin to a child throwing a temper tantrum. He might do lots of shouting, make some over-the-top declarations (“I hate my sister,” “I’m never going back to school again”) and even throw a punch or two. Still, you give the child the attention he craves and maybe even a toy, not because you think the threats are real or because he deserves it, but because you want the tantrum to stop. (Read the rest of that post here.)

Today’s warning from North Korea is its second provocation this week. Yesterday, the North closed a factory complex it operates jointly with South Korea:

Although North Korea barred South Koreans from the Kaesong plant this past Wednesday, few analysts suspected that Pyongyang would shutter the plant — which generates foreign currency for the authoritarian government — even temporarily. ...

At least once before, in 2009, the North barricaded the plant for several days. But the decision Monday marked a new step and underscored unease as officials throughout Asia and in Washington try to predict — and prepare for — what North Korea will do next.

Over the weekend, the Chinese president indirectly criticized Pyongyang’s recent behavior:

“No one should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gains,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said at an economic forum in Hainan province. Avoiding mentioning North Korea by name, Xi said, “While pursuing its own interests, a country should accommodate the legitimate interests of others.” . . .

China — long seen as a key factor propping up the regime in Pyongyang — recently has shown signs of frustration after North Korea ignored its pleas not to carry out a recent nuclear test.

Chinese officials, who value stability above all else, are unlikely to abandon North Korea anytime soon. But sensing an opening amid Chinese frustrations, the Obama administration is trying to push Beijing to take a much stronger stance against the renegade country than it has in the past, U.S. officials have said in public and private comments in recent days. (Read the rest of the article here.)

Glenn Kessler reviews China’s relationship with North Korea, writing that the Chinese have been reluctant to force their neighbor to cooperate:

Perhaps the stars have finally aligned with a new Chinese president and young and untested North Korean leader. But recent history suggests that, once again, any Chinese movement will be frustratingly too incremental for U.S. officials — even though, in theory, China should have important leverage as North Korea’s biggest trading partner.

Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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