North Korea Threatens Escalation 'Far Beyond Imagination' Amid New Tensions

North Korea has threatened further escalation after it blew up a joint Korean liaison office earlier this week, amid deteriorating relations on the peninsula and dwindling hopes of diplomatic success on sanctions relief and denuclearization.

The regime's official newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, said Thursday that the demolition of the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong on Tuesday was "only the beginning," according to the South Korean Yonhap news agency.

Kim Jong Un's regime has ramped up its criticism of South Korea in recent weeks. Pyongyang is frustrated by defector groups across the border floating propaganda balloons into North Korea territory carrying messages decrying Kim's human rights abuses, South Korean media, and other goods.

The North has also grown increasingly annoyed by a lack of diplomatic progress since a surprise detente between Pyongyang, Seoul and Washington, D.C. in 2018. Sanctions relief and denuclearization talks have consistently failed, and the North has returned to its characteristic rhetorical belligerence and regular weapons tests.

This month, the North threatened to cut all cross-border communication, blew up the liaison office in Kaesong and has threatened to re-occupy sensitive areas demilitarized as part of a 2018 inter-Korean agreement.

The Rodong Sinmun said Thursday that the Kaesong explosion was "just the beginning," and that the "explosive sound of justice that will continue to come out could go far beyond the imagination of those who make a noise about what could unfold."

Kim's sister and senior aide Kim Yo Jong—increasingly prominent within the regime prompting rumors she is being prepared to succeed the young dictator, or at least act as a regent until one of his children are old enough to rule—had previously threatened to destroy the building as retaliation for the propaganda balloons.

After the liaison office was destroyed, the North Korean military said it was considering an action plan of next steps, which included re-occupying the areas it left in 2018. "Our military's patience has run out," the Rodong Sinmun declared. "The military's announcement that it is mulling a detailed military action plan should be taken seriously."

South Korea has announced plans to ban the propaganda balloons, though organizers have said they will continue their activities. The Rodong Sinmun said President Moon Jae-in's government had failed to address Pyongyang's concerns and that the regime would no longer discuss inter-Korean issues with Seoul. Moon's government, rather than Kim's, had abandoned "trust and promise," the newspaper claimed.

The Rodong Sinmun said the North was ready to conduct its own propaganda leafleting campaign, sending messages into what it called a country "which is home to human scum," seemingly referring to the defector groups that send balloons north.

There is speculation that Kim may be planning a fresh weapon test or other military action to increase tensions on the peninsula. America's July 4 celebrations are approaching ahead of November's presidential election, while U.S.-South Korean military exercises—long a bugbear for Pyongyang—are scheduled for August.

Yonhap noted that an aviation tracker reported that an aircraft used by Kim flew from Pyongyang to the eastern part of the country on Wednesday, prompting suggestions he may have traveled for an imminent weapon test or the launching of a ballistic missile-armed submarine.

South Korea's military has warned that Pyongyang will "pay the price" if it takes any fresh military action. For its part, the North Korean army has accused the South's defence ministry of "bragging and bluffing, rattling the dialogue partner and stoking a confrontational atmosphere."

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South Korean soldiers ride on the back of a military vehicle in the border city of Paju, South Korea on June 17, 2020. JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images/Getty