TOKYO, June 30. /TASS/. The coronavirus pandemic disrupted the DPRK’s plans to achieve a substantial result in its dialogue with Washington and Seoul in the second half of this year, and now Pyongyang might resort to restrictive measures of military pressure on South Korea, trying to coerce it into concessions, says Katsuhisa Furukawa, a former member of the Panel of Experts of the United Nations Security Council Committee on North Korean Sanctions.
"Since the end of last year, North Korea conducted an intense campaign of launches of short-range missiles of at least four different types. This was a tactic of escalation of tensions, which was supposed to be abruptly turned into a reconciliation dialogue with Seoul ahead of the Tokyo Summer Olympics," the expert says. "North Korea repeatedly conducted such operations in the past."
In particular, there could have been an option of creation of a single Olympic team and participation under a single flag, which Seoul always actively supported. In the future, the expert speculates, this was supposed to create the 'background' for resumption of active dialogue with Washington, which effectively stopped last year.
"The DPRK’s main goal is to establish relations with the US in a bid to remove economic sanctions, which would give an impetus to restoration of the struggling North Korean economy," the expert said. "President Donald Trump is a unique US leader; he is the only American leader after the [Korean] war who does not criticize the DPRK’s internal regime. The DPRK set expectations high for him, but its strategy of rapid restoration of relations with Seoul, and later with the US was thwarted by the unprecedented pandemic, introduction of total quarantine on the North Korean borders and so forth. The moment was lost, and now Pyongyang will have to wait for the outcome of the US presidential election."
New nuclear test ruled out
"In these circumstances, the DPRK may once again return to the tactics of pressure on Seoul, to cause a crisis in the bilateral relations and prod the South into taking measures to settle it," Katsuhisa Furukawa says.
According to the expert, Pyongyang may resume missile tests, demonstratively commission North Korea’s first missile submarine or even conduct a limited military action in the Yellow Sea, where a South Korean frigate was sunk, presumably by a North Korean submarine, in late March 2010. Pyongyang would like to receive economic aid from Seoul, and to achieve a total cancellation of US-South Korean military drills.
"At the same time, such actions as nuclear testing or an ICBM prototype launch are ruled out at this point," the expert says. "This would directly threaten the US and would require the Trump Administration to take harsh responsive action, which is currently unacceptable for Pyongyang."
In mid-June, the DPRK blew up an inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong, saying that this was retaliation for the dissemination of propaganda leaflets by the South Korean NGOs. Later, Pyongyang escalated tensions even further, effectively abandoning the inter-Korean military agreement in border regions. In particular, the DPRK’s General Staff announced its plans to send troops to the Geumgangsan and Kaesong regions, and to restore guard posts in the Demilitarized Zone, previously withdrawn in compliance with an agreement with Seoul, as well as to resume all kinds of military drills near the South Korean border.
However, on June 24, North Korea’s KCNA news agency announced that Kim Jong-un postponed new military actions against South Korea. Seoul welcomed this decision.