North Korea on Tuesday continued issuing threats of launching attacks, telling foreigners residing in the South to make “evacuation plans” in the event of a war.
While the North has issued similar threats in the past – and no foreign embassies in Seoul have, so far, appeared to take the warning seriously – the announcement ensured tensions between the neighbours remained high. In recent days, the North has withdrawn from an armistice agreement and threatened to launch strikes aimed at U.S. bases in South Korea and in the Pacific, in retaliation for on-going and routine military drills being conducted by the two countries.
The North’s Asia-Pacific Peace Committee said in a statement Tuesday the country “does not want to see foreigners in the South hurt in the case of war”. “The committee informs all foreign institutions and enterprises and foreigners including tourists in Seoul and all other parts of South Korea that they are requested to take measures for shelter and evacuation in advance for their safety,” the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.
Separately on Tuesday, South Korean officials said the North had “completed preparations” for a missile launch, suggesting that the country might conduct a launch ahead of the April 15 birth anniversary of Kim Il-sung, the founding leader and grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un, who took over the regime following the death of his father and long-time leader Kim Jong-il in December 2011. The North has, in the past, carried out missile tests and rocket launches to mark sensitive political anniversaries.
“According to intelligence analysis of North Korea’s missile movements, it is believed to have completed preparations for a launch,” an official told the Seoul-based Yonhap news agency. “Technically, it can fire off (a missile) tomorrow.”
Officials in Seoul were quoted as saying they viewed the North’s moves as either an attempt to solidify the regime’s control at home, or as an attempt to strike a deal with South Korea and the West and acquire concessions.
“North Korea seems to use military provocations, like mid-range missile launch, as a means to build domestic unity and pressure South Korea and the U.S.,” South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said in Seoul.
China, the North’s only ally and source of major financial support, on Tuesday reiterated its opposition to the North’s moves to escalate tensions. China’s warnings have, however, had little effect on the North, which went ahead with a nuclear test in February despite Beijing’s objections.
Asked about the North’s evacuation warning to foreigners in South Korea, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei told reporters China “opposes any party’s action that escalates tensions, and we also oppose any party’s action that may impair peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.”