As talks drag on, South Korea continues tougher stance towards North Korea
One benefit of the recent shelling that heightened tensions across the demilitarized zone are the highest level negotiations between Seoul and Pyongyang in many years.
North Korea will continue to receive a barrage of K-pop and news from the South, which vowed Monday to continue airing propaganda as high-level talks aimed at resolving the current crisis stretched into their third day.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye said she would not switch off the loudspeakers – the North had issued a Saturday 5 p.m. deadline – unless the North apologized for an Aug. 4 land mine explosion that injured two border guards earlier this month.
Pyongyang has denied responsibility for the incident. On Aug. 20, it fired four shells into the South, and vowed to attack the loudspeakers. Both sides have accused the other of behavior that could lead to further attacks or invasion.
Although the propaganda broadcasts may seem insubstantial, North Korea describes them as a serious provocation. For the last 11 years, they had been turned off.
The loudspeakers are a point of particular contention between the two sides, experts say. They blast information about life in South Korea 24 hours a day at several points along the border. Most North Koreans lack internet and can only access state-approved television and radio.
Experts say that the broadcasts threaten the North Korean government’s efforts to control what information reaches its citizens.
“North Korea is really nervous about the breaking of their information barrier,” said Stephan Haggard, a North Korea expert at the University of California, San Diego. “They see the broadcasts as insults to their deified leader Kim Jong Un.”
In response, Pyongyang has deployed more artillery, submarines, and troops in the border region in what The New York Times called a bid to “increase its leverage.” Among the military systems deployed are amphibious landing craft that would play a key role in any invasion.
South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency referred to the the amphibious craft as "infiltration vehicles,” insinuating that Pyongyang was setting itself up for a land invasion.
With the mission to transport special infiltration forces ashore, the air-cushioned vehicle is one of North Korea's three core infiltration assets.
"Air-cushioned ships are a means of infiltration which moves on the back of escort support from other naval vessels," one of the sources said. The country may have also put escort vessels into operations as part of the deployment, the source said.
The North has also deployed the other two infiltration forces -- about 50 submarines and special artillery troops -- near the border as the country followed the quasi-war declaration up with a tougher combat readiness posture.
While North Korea has long been known for taking maximalist rhetorical stances, the South under President Park has also begun to take tougher positions, according to the Times. Although critics from the pro-engagement camp in South Korea accuse Park of pushing the North towards “reckless steps,” her approval ratings have increased – up to 41 percent last week, Reuters reports.
The Associated Press writes that Seoul “can’t afford to walk away with a weak agreement” after vowing to end the “vicious cycle” of provocations from the North. Pyongyang also needs to show it is standing up to its enemy, according to the AP. But it is outmatched militarily by the combined might of the South Korean and US militaries.
These are the highest-level talks between the two Koreas in a year. And just the fact that senior officials from countries that have spent recent days vowing to destroy each other are sitting together at a table in Panmunjom, the border enclave where the 1953 armistice ending fighting in the Korean War was agreed to, is being seen as a positive benefit.
The length of the talks and the lack of immediate progress are not unusual. While the Koreas often have difficulty agreeing to talks, once they do, overlong sessions are often the rule.
The last direct attack on the South was in 2010, when shelling from the North on Yeonpyeong Island killed two South Korean soldiers and two civilians. Feelings in the South are also raw over a naval vessel that sank in March 2010, killing 46 sailors, and for which the South blamed the North after a full investigation.
Officially, North and South Korea have remained in a state-of-war since the Korean War ended in 1953 with a truce, not a treaty.