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South Korea responds to Kim’s trash balloons by blasting anti-North propaganda from speakers

Pyongyang sent hundreds of balloons loaded with garbage, including cigarette butts and plastic waste. This incident has paved the way for the recommencement of the loudspeaker broadcasts.

South Korea Resumes Loudspeaker Diplomacy

South Korea has declared its intention to restart its loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts directed at North Korea.

This decision came in response to North Korea’s recent act of sending balloons filled with trash over the border.

North propaganda South Korea counters Kim's balloons
Image by ThePrint

The relationship between the two Koreas has deteriorated significantly in recent times. The two nations have been involved in a reciprocal balloon launch campaign over the past few weeks. Experts have cautioned that this escalating cycle could potentially lead to actual military confrontations.

Earlier this month, Seoul put a halt to a 2018 military agreement designed to ease tensions on the peninsula. This action was taken after Pyongyang sent hundreds of balloons loaded with garbage, including cigarette butts and plastic waste. This incident has paved the way for the recommencement of the loudspeaker broadcasts.

While Seoul has criticized the balloon launches as being of “low class”, they do not breach the numerous UN sanctions imposed on North Korea, which is armed with nuclear weapons. Unlike the repeated ballistic missile tests conducted by Kim Jong Un, these actions do not violate international law.

The office of the president announced, “We will install loudspeakers against North Korea today and carry out the broadcast,” The statement further added that “the responsibility for the escalation of tension between the two Koreas will be entirely up to the North”.

This move is seen as a response to the more than 300 balloons filled with trash that Pyongyang sent across the border in a new wave that began on Saturday. The statement from the president’s office said, “Although the measures we are taking may be difficult for the North Korean regime to endure, they will deliver messages of light and hope to the North Korean military and citizens.”

In recent weeks, activists in South Korea have sent dozens of balloons carrying K-pop music, dollar bills, and anti-Kim Jong Un propaganda towards the North. This has provoked anger in Pyongyang, which has responded in kind.

Pyongyang had previously sent nearly a thousand balloons across the border in late May and early June before halting its campaign. However, it resumed this activity on Saturday in response to new launches last week by the activists. The government in Seoul has virtually no legal means to counter these actions.

On Saturday, the Seoul city government and officials in the surrounding Gyeonggi province issued a text alert to residents warning them about the new balloons. Seoul’s mayor, Oh Se-hoon, described North Korea’s actions as another “low-class provocation” against civilian areas in a Facebook post.

Seoul’s military stated that their analysis found no harmful substances in the latest batch of balloons, which contained waste paper and plastic. However, they advised the public to avoid these balloons and report any sightings to the authorities.

Implications of Seoul’s Actions

Experts have warned that Seoul’s decision to restart the loudspeaker broadcasts could have serious repercussions. Previous propaganda exchanges have had tangible impacts on inter-Korean relations.

The loudspeaker broadcasts, a strategy that originated during the 1950-1953 Korean War, have always been a source of irritation for Pyongyang. In the past, North Korea has threatened to launch artillery strikes against the loudspeaker units if they were not deactivated.

Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Korean peninsula strategy at the Sejong Institute, expressed his concern, stating, “there is a high possibility the resuming of speakers could lead to an armed conflict. With the resuming of the speakers, North Korea will not stay put. It is likely that North Korea will resume firing in the West Sea or fire at the balloons if the South sends any again. North Korea has been jamming GPS signals for several days last week and it is likely for this kind of provocation to appear in a much stronger form in the West Sea as well.”

In 2018, during a period of improved inter-Korean relations, the leaders of the two Koreas agreed to “completely cease all hostile acts”, which included stopping the distribution of leaflets.

In 2020, the South Korean parliament passed a law criminalizing the act of sending leaflets to the North. However, the activists did not cease their activities, and the law was subsequently overturned by the Constitutional Court last year on the grounds that it excessively restricted freedom of speech.

The opposition Democratic Party has criticized the government for not taking more decisive action to prevent the activists’ balloon launches.

They argued that the activists were using “freedom of expression” as a justification to endanger the safety of our people. They also expressed their disapproval of the resumption of the loudspeaker broadcasts, stating that “the government’s actions risk escalating into a regional war.”

Dr. Shubhangi Jha

Avid reader, infrequent writer, evolving

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