The Koreas | Security | East Asia

North Korea Warns That Inter-Korean Liaison Office May Be ‘Collapsed’

Tensions between the two Koreas have spiked right before a major inter-Korean diplomatic anniversary.

Ankit Panda
North Korea Warns That Inter-Korean Liaison Office May Be ‘Collapsed’
Credit: AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File

Kim Yo Jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister and a senior official of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, said in a statement on Saturday that Pyongyang would retaliate for what it saw as a failure by South Korea to sufficiently crack down on civil groups sending anti-North Korean regime leaflets across the inter-Korean border.

Kim said that the she had used her “power,” which was “authorized by the Supreme Leader [Kim Jong Un], our Party and the state” to instruct the North Korean armed forces to undertake a response. “If I drop a hint of our next plan the south Korean authorities are anxious about, the right to taking the next action against the enemy will be entrusted to the General Staff of our army,” her statement noted, without specifying what action would be taken.

“Our army, too, will determine something for cooling down our people’s resentment and surely carry out it, I believe,” she added. Kim Yo Jong singled out the inter-Korean liaison office at Kaesong, one of the main accomplishments out of the inter-Korean diplomacy of 2018 that began with the April 2018 Panmunjom Summit meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

She suggested that South Korea may see “a tragic scene of the useless north-south joint liaison office … completely collapsed.” North Korea recently cut off all inter-Korean communications lines. The inter-Korean liaison office has not seen use for much of the year due to the coronavirus pandemic; it was temporarily suspended in January.

Saturday’s statement led to the South Korean presidential office convening a meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the growing tensions between the two sides. Kim Yo Jong’s statement came days before June 15, 2020, which will be the 20th anniversary of the first-ever inter-Korean leaders’ meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung. June 25, 2020, will also mark the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War.

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South Korea’s Ministry of Unification issued a statement after Kim Yo Jong’s statement calling on Pyongyang to abide by all inter-Korean agreements. The threat that the inter-Korean liaison office could be “collapsed” has been interpreted literally by some in South Korea, suggesting that the North could stage an attack on the facility.

Kim Yo Jong, Kim’s sister, has also been gradually growing her profile under her brother’s leadership in the past two years. She was seen, for the first time, in 2019 attending short-range ballistic missile tests with her brother. In February 2018, Kim Yo Jong became the first descendant of Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s founding leader, to travel to South Korea when she played an instrumental part in initiating Pyongyang’s outreach that year.