Just one month after North Korea finally came to an agreement with the west about resuming the dismantlement of its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, tensions with the reclusive state are once again worsening.
While last month’s tensions focused around naval operations in the Yellow Sea and accusations of nuclear weapons production this month’s disputes are more centered around nuclear samples and colorful balloons. The samples, South Korean officials say, are vital to verifying that the North is fulfilling its obligations under a six-party denuclearization pact, while the North insists the verification deal was confined to the Yongbyon site. North Korea seems more furious about the balloons, however.
The balloons are being launched by activists not far from the border, and are being used to drop leaflets condemning the North Korean regime and exposing the abuses of its prison system. South Korea has pressured the activists to halt the launches, but ultimately has no legal recourse to stop them. The North, meanwhile, sees the balloons as part of a broader Southern plot to force regime change.
Riled up by the helium-filled, sedition-carrying intruders, the North Korean government has threatened to close off traffic across the demilitarized zone, effectively shuttering 80 South Korean factories in Kaesong. North Korea has likewise restricted travel across its northern border with China, leading to speculation that the move goes deeper than just balloons.