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South Koreans Dub North Korea's Armistice Threat a Daring Aid Ploy

North Korea has threatened to nullify the armistice that ended the Korean War, escalating the already heightened tension in East Asia region and leaving some South Koreans whirling at the brazen threat from their northern neighbor.

The ultimatum was a disturbing move by North Korea, who conducted its third nuclear test on last month. Angry over planned sanctions from the United Nations, North Korea declared on March 5, 2013 that it will end the ceasefire between the Koreas and cut off direct phone links with South Korea if the United States and South Korea go through with their annual joint military exercises.

Although peace continued over 60 years, North and South Korea are technically at war after the Korean War ended in a truce in 1953.

South Korean Web users were quick to analyze and interpret the threat, with a majority decided that it was the most wild, daring stunt North Korea has pulled to win more food aid from South Korea and dissuade the US from enacting tougher sanctions.

North Korean Soldier at DMZ

North Korean Soldier at DMZ, public domain

The initial online reaction in South Korea was quite chaotic, buzzing with with overly-hyped tweets from news organizations and from South Koreans trying to remind themselves that they are living technically on the brink of war:

@ubbbe: 일부 안보개념이 부족한 분들을 위해서 말씀 드립니다. ” 정전협정 폐지” 는 ” 휴전 상황 종료 ” 입니다. 북한이 이제 막바지로 버티나봐요.

@ubbbe: I will bring up this fact for some people who have no idea about the national security issue. “Nullifying the armistice” means “ending the break (we had) from the war”. It also signals that the North Korean regime has hit a dead end.

The chaos was intensified thanks to local media's misleading reports on Twitter that led some to believe that North Korea has already declared a war:

@iron_heel: 언론사 트윗의 속보에 낚이지 말자. 북한이 1953년 정전협정을 철회하겠다고 일제히 [속보] 트윗을 날렸다. 근데 북한이 내세운 전제조건은 쏙 뺏다. 한미 훈련을 실시하면….이라는 전제 조건을 말이다.

@iron_heel: Don't be fooled by the (Korean) media's tweets. They tweeted “North Korea announced they will nullify the 1953 armistice”, omitting the precondition that North Korea has set. North Korea said [they will do so] “if we forge ahead with the US-South Korea joint military operation”.

However, several Twitter users responded to the above tweet [ko] writing that reports such as those are probably accurate, although they indeed left out the precondition part, because the annual US-South Korea military drills are hardly ever canceled simply due to pressure from North Korea. One response read [ko]:

@v542v:어이없어서 글남깁니다.언론사에서 이런 장난치겠습니까.그것도 찌라시도아니고 모든언론에서기사가 나오는데.[...] 미군이 주둔해있는이상 한미훈련은 계속할수밖에없을겁니다.

@v542v: I am writing this because [your claim] was so absurd. Why would media want to fool you in such a way? Not only those [discredited] tabloids, but almost every news outlet reported this way. [...] As long as the US Army is in South Korea, the US-South Korea joint military drills will go ahead as planned.

The fact that North Korea set a specific date, March 11, 2013, to end the armistice led many to interpret the threat as North Korean brinkmanship. Below are net users interpretations posted in one question-and-answer thread [ko] on the popular information-sharing site, Naver KIN (Knowledge-IN):

Q (by user ID: shk****) : 방금어떤기사보니까 11일부터 폐지?라고 북한이 선포했다는데. 왜이리날짜를 자세하게알려주지[...] 진짜전쟁할꺼였으면 지금당장하지않았을까요? [...]저 날짜까지 식량좀달라는거아닐까요? A (by user ID: helicomoon): 일종에 남한 정부에게위협주고 미국에 대화하자고 신호를보내는방식입니다. 그 수단이 외교적인 것이 아니고 군사적 위협이란 것입니다 [...] 휴전협정 파기를 갖고 이미 수 십번 공갈친 전력이 있어 새로운 소재는아니지만 현정부와 대화창구가 절실하다는 것입니다

Q (by user ID: shk****): There are news articles that say North Korea vowed to nullify the armistice starting on March 11. This made me wonder why they give out such specific date. If they really were seriously thinking of a war, they would have just started right away. I'm rather inclined to interpret that as North Korea saying “give us the food until that deadline.”
A:(by user ID: helicomoon): It is their way of signaling that they want to have a talk with the United States, at the same time flexing their muscles at the [new] South Korean government. They are communicating in military fashion, instead of doing it diplomatically. North Korea's tactic is not entirely new and they have lied to us so many times by blackmailing us, saying that they would end the armistice. But it still means that they really do need a channel through which they can discuss [issues] with the current government.

And this Twitter user backed the claim up by linking to an old article published in 1995:

@warden_pn사실 이번에 북한에서 한 정전협정 파기 드립은 [링크연결]옛날에도 한번 있었던 일이다. 이번에도 초강수 한번 둔건데 그걸로 북한이 해주는대로 하자면 그건 북한에게 놀아나자는 꼴.

@warden_pn: Actually, North Korea's stunt of threatening us to end the armistice has happened before. [link to the 1995 article where North Korea made a similar threat] It was just their most daring, wild stunt. And if we [get threatened by this] and give them whatever they want, it would be playing right into their hands.

A majority of Web users similarly interpreted North Korea's move as a tantrum to win food aid for their starving nation. Several people from the TodayHumor website pointed out [ko] that North Korea has never been fully committed to the armistice, given their many military provocations in the past. And if they were really seriously considering starting a war, they would have already declared so and fired their missiles right from the start.

Other Twitter users mentioned that South Korean politicians will try to take advantage of the collective fear caused by the heightened military tension, as they always have done:

@ex_armydoc: 아시는지 모르겠지만, 북한은 매년 한미 합동훈련, 그리고 호국훈련 때마다 비슷한 이야기를 반복하고 있습니다. 물론 이번 ‘정전협정 백지화’는 꽤 크긴 합니다만, 심심하면 ‘서울을 불바다로 만들겠다’고 하는 애들이고, 또 매번 정부는 이를 이용하죠.

@ex_armydoc: For some of you who don't know this: North Korea has repeated this same rhetoric during the US-South military drill almost every year and during the annual “Safeguarding the Nation” military drill. It doesn't mean that this “nullification of armistice” is a huge event, but don't forget the fact that North Korea has constantly said they will “burn South Korea to ashes” and our government has always used this to their political advantage.

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