North Korea - South Korea

Chronology from Jan 2024 to May 2024

: MOU Kim Yung-ho meets Carsten Schneider, Germany’s minister of state for East Germany and equivalent living conditions, after the annual session of the Korea-Germany Unification Advisory Committee, founded in 2011. Kim asks for Berlin’s support for the ROK’s “unwavering commitment to pursuing a peaceful unification of the two Koreas based on liberal democracy.” 


May 11, 2024: A joint probe by South Korea’s police, prosecution and National Intelligence Service (NIS) finds that over a two-year period in 2021-23, the North Korean hacking group Lazarus stole a total of 1,014 gigabytes (GB) of data and documents from an ROK court computer network. The report did not name this, nor say how the breach was effected. 

: Two NGOs tell NK News that in April China forcibly returned some 260 North Koreans. Jang Se-yul, head of the North Korean People’s Liberation Front, says that on April 26 about 200 were repatriated from Changbai Korean Autonomous County in Jilin province. The same day, according to Lee Young-hwan, executive director of the Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG), a further 61 were sent back from Tumen, Hunchun, and Dandong. MOU vice-spokesperson Kim In-nae comments: “The [ROK] government maintains the position that under no circumstances should North Korean defectors residing abroad be forcibly transported against their will.”

: 400;">May 3, 2024: “Sources familiar with the issue,” doubtless military, tell Yonhap that in March (date unspecified) the ROK Marine Corps shot down an unidentified 2-meter balloon, which crossed the Northern Limit Line (NLL) near Baengnyeong, a front-line South Korean island in the West/Yellow Sea. A KA-1 light attack aircraft shot down the intruder; salvage efforts failed. It is assumed to have been North Korean, though it could also have been Chinese.

: MOU says that North Korea appears to have dismantled a South Korean building near the former Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC). Never used, the facility was built by an ROK company “for investment purposes.” No further details are provided.

: South Korea raises the alert status at its embassies in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos, and its consulates in Shenyang and Vladivostok, all places where North Korea has a strong presence. Seoul claims to have intelligence suggesting a “high possibility of a terrorist attack.” In 1996 an ROK diplomat in Vladivostok, who monitored DPRK activities there, was bludgeoned to death; no conclusive link to Pyongyang was proven. 

: South Korea’s defense and culture ministries announce 10 new peace-themed hiking trails at various locations along the DMZ. These will open to the public on May 13. The intrepid can sign up for tours at

: MOU reports that in the first quarter 43 North Korean  defectors—eight men and 35 women—arrived in the South: fewer than in the previous quarter (57), but more than in the same period in 2023 (34). 

: An unnamed ROK military official tells Yonhap that “late last year” the Korean People’s Army (KPA) laid mines on an unpaved road within the DMZ near Arrowhead Hill, in Cheorwon, 85 km northeast of Seoul. In 2018, in happier times, the two Koreas built the road to facilitate joint searches for MIA remains; this was the site of a major battle in the Korean War. In the event ROK troops conducted the exhumations alone. South Korea’s JCS rule out laying any mines in retaliation as “disproportionate.”

: South Korea’s National Police Agency (NPA) says that three different DPRK cyber groups— Lazarus, Andariel, and Kimsuky—have stolen data files from at least 10 ROK arms manufacturers, in campaigns which began in Nov. 2022. They especially target secondary defense subcontractors, whose systems may be more vulnerable. 

: South Korea’s JCS say North Korea is preparing to launch a second military satellite, but this does not seem imminent. ROK MND Shin suggested a launch this month was highly possible. Pyongyang has said it will put three more satellites in orbit this year, after its first successful launch in November—which followed two failed attempts.

: “A source” tells Yonhap that in March North Korea removed street lamps along two (notionally) cross-border roads: Gyeongui, which runs between Kaesong in the North and Paju in the South, and the Donghae east coast road. In Jan. the North mined both roads. Calling this a violation of the spirit of inter-Korean agreements, MOU also wants its money back: during 2002-08 Seoul lent Pyongyang $133 million for inter-Korean works. As with every Southern loan ever, nothing was ever repaid.

: The ROK Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST) chooses DPRK founding leader Kim Il Sung’s birthday to further publicize its campaign, symbolized by a three forget-me-nots motif, drawing attention to South Korean abductees, detainees and POWs held in North Korea. (See also Feb. 1 and March 27, above).

: Visiting Kim Jong Il University of Military and Politics (some DPRK media style this Kim Jong Il Military and Political Academy), Kim Jong Un says: “Now is the time to be more thoroughly prepared for a war than ever before.” KCNA’s photos show blurred maps and a model, which appear to depict South Korea and central Seoul.

: Prosecutors in Suwon seek a 15 year jail term—plus a fine, confiscation of assets and legal costs—for Lee Hwa-yong. The former vice governor of Gyeonggi province, which surrounds Seoul, was indicted for bribery and illicit money transfers in October 2022 in a case centred on underwear manufacturer Ssangbangwool. The firm is alleged to have sent $5 million to North Korea in 2019 on behalf of Gyeonggi, whose then Gov. Lee Jae-myong—who now leads the liberal opposition DPK, and is himself facing charges—had hoped to visit Pyongyang and to support a smart farm project in the DPRK.

: ROK’s second indigenous military reconnaissance satellite is launched by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida; it goes into orbit 45 minutes later. Whereas its first spy satellite, launched in Dec., used electro-optical and infrared sensors, the new one has synthetic aperture radar (SAR) sensors; these use microwaves, and thus can gather data unaffected by weather conditions. South Korea’s next three spy satellites, to be launched by 2025, will also have SAR sensors. By contrast, North Korea’s so far solitary spy satellite—three more promised are yet to appear—which Seoul claims to be bothered by, lacks any technology approaching this sophistication.

: It is a year since North Korea stopped picking up the phone, severing thitherto twice-daily liaison contact with the South. Yonhap notes that inter-Korean communications have an on-off history: Pyongyang broke contact in Feb. 2016, resumed it in Jan. 2018, broke it off again in June 2020, and resumed in July 2021. Kim’s new line on the South suggests prospects are bleak this time. Absent direct contact, Seoul has two options: megaphone diplomacy, making announcements in public media; or more privately, via the US-led UN Command, which oversees the DMZ and thus has its own channels to the North.

: In line with surmise in Seoul (see Feb. 23), Daily NK quotes “a source in North Korea” as confirming that the UFD is essentially being shut down. The Party will retain a small specialist staff, but most functions are being transferred—in two directions. MOFA is taking over strategic projects regarding South Korea, while activities in the South will fall to the KPA Reconnaissance General Bureau. (The RGB already handles those operationally, so the precise impact of this aspect of the reorganization is unclear.) The source claims it has not yet been decided which agency will take charge of pro-North sympathizers in South Korea.

: Noting that North Korea should have staged a parliamentary election this month (the last was held in March 2019), MOU speculates that the current 14th SPA may first be convened once more to formally scrap further inter-Korean agreements, and to approve the constitutional changes regarding South Korea which Kim Jong Un called for in January.

: Meeting relatives and advocacy groups, MOU Kim Yung-ho denounces North Korea’s past abduction and continuing detention of thousands of South Koreans as “inhumane.” The new forget-me-not motif is much in evidence: President Yoon and other ministers also wore pin badges of this in Cabinet the previous day.

: In a message to the commander of the ROKN frigate Cheonan—a newly commissioned warship, named after the corvette sunk by North Korea exactly 14 years earlier—MND Shin says: “North Korea is claiming the NLL is a ghost line without legal grounds and is continuously trying to nullify it…Protect the Yellow Sea and the NLL that the comrades before you have defended by giving up their lives.” Cdr. Park Yeon-soo, who commands the new Cheonan, served on the old one and is a survivor of the 2010 attack.

:   At a forum held in Seoul by the government’s Korea Institute for National Unification, Cho Han-bum, a senior research fellow at KINU, argues that the 1994 National Community Unification Formula (NCUF) should be kept but recalibrated, since it is hard to obtain bipartisan consensus and this should not be politicized. The NCUF posits three stages: reconciliation and cooperation, the creation of a Korean commonwealth, and full unification. By contrast, Kim Hyun-wook, a director-general at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, says the NCUF must be replaced, as stage two (commonwealth) “is not valid anymore.”

: ROK’s Unification Future Planning Committee (UFPC), an advisory body launched last year, holds its first meeting. UFPC is tasked with drawing up a new vision of unification, which “espouses the principle of freedom” and reflects the changed security situation on the peninsula. (See also March 20, below.)

: Freedom Shield wraps up with a live-fire tank drill near the DMZ involving US military engineers, Yonhap notes that North Korea did not launch any missiles during the 11-day exercise, as some expected. Kim Jong Un did guide other drills, including artillery and tanks. Suspected DPRK attempts to disrupt Global Positioning System (GPS) signals around the northwestern border islands were detected from March 5-7, but no damage was reported.

: Visiting Army Special Warfare Command in Icheon, 56 km southeast of Seoul, MND Shin tells his troops: “If Kim [Jong Un] starts a war, as a key unit of Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR), you must become the world’s strongest special operations unit to swiftly eliminate the enemy leadership.” KMPR is the ROK’s operational plan to take out the DPRK leadership if the North starts a war.

: North Korea reveals a new battle tank (no name or model is mentioned) during a training competition. Kim Jong Un drives one, calling this “the most powerful [tank] in the world”. First paraded in 2020, the new tank looks to have been upgraded since. After “watching with satisfaction the fierce advance of tanks dashing ahead like wind”, Kim calls this the most satisfying of all the KPA exercises he has guided. He congratulates the winners, the Seoul Ryu Kyong Su Guards 105th Tank Division, noting that they are “a unit with the proud history and tradition of having occupied the enemy capital” (in June 1950). If all KPA units were this well prepared, “he would never worry about the preparations for war.”

: MOU says: “In response to North Korea’s policy shift into an anti-national and anti-historical stance, the year 2024 will be the most appropriate time to actively lay out our unification vision and lead the North’s change.” In other words, Pyongyang’s new stance facilitates Seoul proceeding with its own previously announced revisionism.

: They wouldn’t put it this way, but Seoul follows Pyongyang’s lead—see Jan. 1 and 13—with some reorganization of its own. ROK MOFA says it will abolish its Office of Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs, replacing it with a new Office of Diplomatic Strategy and Intelligence. As per its name, intelligence collection and strategic planning will be folded into the new office: placing North Korea in a broader context, while also shifting the main focus from dialogue to deterrence. Critics warn that the long-term goal of peace and denuclearization should not be lost sight of, remote as these prospects may seem right now.

: Dismissing recent threats by Kim Jong Un as an attempt to promote unity within North Korea’s “unstable” internal system and sow division in the South Korea, ROK MND Shin—as often—returns fire with fire. Visiting a key military bunker operated by the Capital Defense Command in Seoul, Shin tells the troops: “Make all-out efforts for realistic practice and training to ensure the end of the Kim Jong Un regime in the shortest period of time, if the enemy invades the Republic of Korea.”

: In a second successive day of military-related activities, Kim Jong Un guides artillery drills, at front-line sub-units “who have put the enemy’s capital in their striking range. Yonhap deadpans: “The enemy’s capital is believed to be referring to Seoul.”

: Visiting “a major operational training base in the western area,” Kim Jong Un calls for intensified “practical actual war drills” to counter the enemy’s “slightest attempt to ignite a war.”

: North Korea as usual denounces Freedom Shield. Warning that the US and ROK “will be made to pay a dear price for their false choice,” a DPRK MND spokesman adds: “The large-scale war drills staged by the world’s biggest nuclear weapons state and more than 10 satellite states against a state in the Korean [Peninsula] where a nuclear war may be ignited even with a spark, can never be called ‘defensive.’”

: Freedom Shield, a large-scale annual US-ROK military drill, begins. It will last 11 days. Though a regular event, these are the first such maneuvers since the inter-Korean military accord collapsed in Nov. They include 48 field drills, over twice as many as last year—although none are near the DMZ. Personnel from 12 member states of the United Nations Command (UNC), including Australia, Britain, the Philippines, and Thailand, will also join, observed by the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC). 

: NIS reveals that DPRK hackers have broken into at least two ROK makers of chipmaking equipment. In December and February they stole photographs of facilities and drawings of product designs, using hard-to-detect “living off the land” (LOTL) techniques which take over legitimate tools installed within servers.  Warning firms to be vigilant, the agency adds: “We believe that North Korea might possibly be preparing to produce its own semiconductors in the face of difficulties in procuring them due to sanctions.”

: Yonhap says KCNA has removed from its website most articles referring to unification and the like. (Everything can still be found as it was on KCNA Watch)

: Yonhap reports that the DPRK website dealing with postage stamps has erased all reference to stamps with unification themes, including those issued to commemorate past inter-Korean summit meetings. Pyongyang has also removed images of the Korean peninsula from other websites, or blurred the southern half. 

: MOU Kim says of Kim Jong Un’s new line: “There’s a high possibility that erasing the achievements of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, who are the basis for hereditary power, will create an ideological vacuum or confusion among North Korea’s elite…If there is internal conflict, there’s a high possibility [North Korea] will carry out a military provocation to overcome the crisis…Our government considers the situation very serious, and we have prepared thorough measures in response, including military deterrence measures.”

: Ko Young-hwan—a former North Korean diplomat who defected in 1991, now a special adviser to MOU Kim—suggests that Pyongyang may create a post of first vice foreign minister to handle South Korea in future, and might appoint Ri Son Gwon, head of the United Front Department (UFD) of the WPK. Lower UFD officials may similarly transfer to MOFA, which had previously handled inter-Korean relations until the mid-1990s. (Later reports suggest such a reorganization is indeed happening; see March 29 below.)

: MOU Kim says his ministry will push for July 14 to be designated an official day for North Korean defectors. On that date in 1997 a law protecting and supporting defectors came into effect. Ji Seong-ho, a defector and lawmaker of the conservative ruling People Power Party (PPP), had earlier proposed July 8: the date the Hanawon resettlement facility opened in 1999. Another PPP defector lawmaker, Thae Yong-ho, suggested Aug. 26, when the Soviet Red Army, which liberated northern Korea, closed off the 38th Parallel in 1945

: NIS says it will ask the Korea Communications Standards Commission (KCSC) to block access to “Olivia Natasha,” a YouTube channel featuring a young North Korean woman. Google shut the account down last year, but new content has been posted, and reuploads can be found.

: Ten years after a special UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) found the DPRK regime responsible for “widespread, systematic and gross” human rights violations, MOU says the situation remains “poor and dismal, with North Korean people not being guaranteed the minimum level of human rights amid the regime’s harsh surveillance and punishment.” MOU urges Pyongyang to “make the right choice.”

: Responding to Kim, the ROK JCS say: “The NLL remains our military’s unchanged maritime border. We will firmly respond to any provocations.”

: DPRK media report that Kim Jong Un, at the test-firing of a new surface-to-sea missile named Padasuri-6—it means sea eagle—the previous day, termed the NLL “a ghost [line] without any ground in the light of international law.” Kim calls on the KPA Navy to “thoroughly defend the maritime sovereignty by force of arms and actions, not by any rhetoric, statement and public notice.” (Pyongyang’s stance, that the terrestrial MDL be extended westwards, takes no account of three ROK-controlled islands located north of that.)

: South Korea’s presidential office says that the private email of a staffer, which he was also using for work (in violation of regulations), was hacked—“presumably” by North Korea—just before Yoon’s visits to the UK and France last Nov. “Necessary measures were taken,” and the office’s own security system was not compromised.

: Citing Safe and Secure World (S2W), a South Korean cyber threat intelligence firm, NK News reports new DPRK malware designed to steal data from ROK targets.

: SPA Standing Committee, which acts when the full Assembly is not in session (i.e., most of the time), approves a decree abolishing laws on north-south economic cooperation and the Mt Kumgang tourist zone, plus various related accords and regulations.

: Denouncing MND Shin’s “worst ludicrous statements” (see Jan. 24), KCNA warns that such remarks could be a “catalyst” for a physical clash.

: MOU publishes a symbol—first trailed on Jan. 18—created for its campaign to raise awareness of South Koreans detained in North Korea. This consists of three blue forget-me-not flowers, representing respectively abductees, detainees, and unreturned POWs. Ul:kin, a leading streetwear fashion brand, features the new motif in a collection shown at Seoul Fashion Week (Feb. 1-5).

: South Korea unveils a new National Cybersecurity Strategy. This criticizes the document it replaces, issued in 2019 under Yoon’s pro-engagement predecessor Moon Jae-in, for not “look[ing] squarely” at North Korea, “the biggest actual threat.” The new version stresses the need to be pre-emptive: “simply reinforcing our defense capabilities has its limits…we must change our paradigm to respond offensively to North Korea.”

: Introducing a screening of Beyond Utopia, a high-profile US documentary about escapees from North Korea, MOU Kim Yung-ho condemns unspecified South Korean “liberal experts,” who reportedly told a forum at the National Assembly that “they can accept North Korea’s perspective of war for the purpose of peace.” Kim avers: “Their remarks made in the name of academic freedom carries (sic) an anti-state view that undermines the achievements and identity of the Republic of Korea. This cannot be tolerable.”

: Cho Hyun-dong, ROK ambassador in Washington, insists that notwithstanding the DPRK’s threats, bilateral cooperation—as well as trilaterally with Japan—will only grow stronger: “We will never be perturbed [and] never bow to those provocations.” He terms Seoul’s approach “wholistic” (sic), involving “deterrence, dissuasion and dialogue” (MOU calls this 3D). The first two Ds will supposedly persuade Pyongyang to opt for the third. 

: Not for the first time, MOU says it is considering suing North Korea for its illegal use of Southern-owned facilities in the defunct Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC). This follows a report by the Seoul daily Dong-A Ilbo that the ROK government plans to seek Won 400bn ($300m) in damages from Pyongyang. Without commenting on the amount, MOU confirms that “we are closely reviewing legal aspects necessary for a lawsuit and preparing for it…We will decide on the specific timing…after taking into account the situation at the complex.” Like MOU’s lawsuit last June over the North’s destruction in 2020 of the joint liaison office at Kaesong, any such action would be purely symbolic.

: South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) says that production of spy drones to monitor North Korea has begun, under a Won 471.7 billion ($353.6 million) contract it signed in December with a consortium comprising Korean Air and two defense firms, LIG Nex1 and Hanwha Systems. 13m long and 3m high with a 25m wingspan, the new craft will fly at 10-12km altitude. It can take high resolution images from distances of over 100km.

: After North Korea testfires several cruise missiles over the Yellow Sea, ROK MND Shin tells ROKAF 17th Fighter Wing, which operates  40 F-35 stealth fighter jets out of Cheongju Air Base (112 km south of Seoul): “If the Kim Jong Un regime opts for the worst choice of waging war, you should be at the vanguard of removing the enemy’s leadership at the earliest possible time and put an end to the regime.”

: An unnamed MOU official denies reports that Pyongyang’s new hostile stance is prompting Seoul to rethink its own unification blueprint. Formulated in 1994, among much else this includes the concept of a “Korean commonwealth.” (In fact, a rethink is indeed under way under Yoon, preceding the North’s change of line; see March 8, 15, and 20 below.)

: Apropos the recently tested Haeil-5-23, the ROK Presidential Office says: “We are weighing the possibility that North Korea’s claim is exaggerated and fabricated.” It continues, bizarrely: “There is a very slim possibility that it is a nuclear-powered system. There is no case of the development of a small reactor that can be fitted in a torpedo with a diameter of less than 1 meter.” No one suggests this craft is nuclear-powered; the issue is whether it may be nuclear armed

: A DPRK defense ministry MND press statement, headlined “We will never tolerate the reckless military confrontation hysteria,” claims that in response to tripartite naval maneuvers off Jeju island by “military gangsters of the US, Japan and ROK” held on Jan. 15-17, “the Underwater Weapon System Institute under the DPRK Academy of Defence Science conducted an important test of its underwater nuclear weapon system ‘Haeil-5-23.’” No range claims are made nor any photographs issued, unlike after the weapon’s first test in April 2023. In March 2023 KCNA trumpeted an earlier model (Haeil-1) at length, boasting that it could “stealthily infiltrate…and make a super-scale radioactive tsunami through underwater explosion to destroy naval striker groups and major operational ports of the enemy.”

: ROK opposition leader Lee Jae-myung calls on Kim Jong Un to “immediately stop missile provocations and put an end to hostile acts…so as not to undermine the efforts made by his predecessors…Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung.” Lee also criticizes Yoon’s hard line: “If we respond to a neighbor throwing stones by throwing an even larger stone and cause greater harm, what benefit would that bring us?”

: MOU data show that North Korean defector arrivals almost tripled in 2023. From a high of 2,914 in 2009, numbers have declined since 2012 in the Kim Jong Un era—and then fell dramatically to just 63 in 2021 and 67 in 2022, amid Pyongyang’s drastic anti-COVID border restrictions. In last year’s cohort of 196, the great majority (164) were female.

: South Korea sanctions 11 vessels, two individuals, and three companies. Most are North Korean, and all have been named in UN Panel of Experts (PoE) reports as involved in ship-to-ship transfers of oil, coal and other products: violating UN Security Council (UNSC) sanctions against the DPRK. These are Seoul’s first ship sanctions [a great tongue-twister!] in eight years: Yoon’s predecessor, Moon Jae-in (president 2017-22), eschewed such gestures. By contrast, this is the 15th set of sanctions imposed in the 20 months since Yoon became president in May 2022.

: Condemning Kim’s stance as “anti-national and ahistorical,” Yoon Suk Yeol  tells his Cabinet: “The current ROK government is different from any previous [one]…Our military has an overwhelming response capability….Should North Korea provoke us, we will punish them multiple times as hard (sic).” Ironically, later in the meeting, apropos employer penalties under a new SME workers’ safety law, he declares: “Punishment isn’t everything.”

: The SPA abolishes three bodies handling inter-Korean matters: the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRK), the National Economic Cooperation Bureau, and the Kumgangsan International Tourism Administration.

: In a lengthy speech—mainly economy-focused—to the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA, the DPRK’s rubber-stamp Parliament), Kim Jong Un elaborates his new line on South Korea. This includes changing the Constitution to “specify …the issue of completely occupying, subjugating and reclaiming the ROK and annex it as a part of the territory of our Republic in case of [sic] a war breaks out on the Korean peninsula.” North Koreans must no longer think in terms of “consanguinity” and “80 million compatriots.” Instead, “education should be intensified to instill into them the firm idea that ROK (sic) is their primary foe and invariable principal enemy.” 

: KCNA briefly reports that on Jan. 14 “the DPRK Missile Administration conducted a test-fire of an intermediate-range solid-fuel ballistic missile loaded with a hypersonic maneuverable controlled warhead.” It adds: “The test-fire never affected the security of any neighboring country and had nothing to do with the regional situation.” No flight details were given, but the ROK military say it was launched from the Pyongyang area and flew circa 1,000km (presumably eastward). This is a double threat: solid-fuel propelled missiles can be loaded and launched faster than liquid-fuelled; and hypersonic missiles are hard to intercept, flying at Mach 5 or more at low altitudes on unpredictable flight paths.

: KCNA reports that “officials in charge of affairs with enemies” (organizations were not specified, nor persons) met on Jan. 12 to implement Kim’s “switchover in the policy towards the south.” This is summarized as: “a firm viewpoint that the clays (sic) in the region of south Korean puppets who have pursued only the ‘collapse of the DPRK’s power’ and unification by absorption’ are the main enemy of the DPRK to be completely wiped out .,, [while] making preparations for a great event…in keeping with the powerful military action of the Korean People’s Army to suppress the whole territory of the southern half of the Republic.” On this basis, four named solidarity organisations are to be “readjusted.”

: At his first formal press conference, directly after being sworn in, MOFA Cho opines that North Korea’s recent shelling had “the intention of driving a wedge between [the ROK], the US and Japan.” Seoul’s response will remain “firm and very restrained,” in consultation with Washington: focused on bolstering deterrence, while continuing efforts to a change Pyongyang’s stance.

: Starting work as South Korea’s 41st foreign minister, Cho Tae-yul—a career diplomat, unlike his predecessor Park Jin—dismisses calls for peace talks: “I don’t think it’s that time yet…North Korea continues to advance its nuclear and missile capabilities, and we’re not in the mood for dialogue.” Besides, Pyongyang refuses to talk.

: Asked about seeming US-ROK analytical discrepancies, an embarrassed ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) says it has nothing to add. John Kirby, the US National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, said yesterday the US is unaware of any military links between Pyongyang and Hamas. South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS), by contrast, had issued photographs of a North Korean F-7 rocket-propelled grenade launcher used by Hamas. (There is a simple explanation: Hamas probably acquired these weapons from Iran, its main sponsor, rather than directly.)

: NK News reports that several North Korean propaganda websites targeting South Korea went offline simultaneously. Sites affected include Uriminzokkiri, DPRK Today, Arirang Meari, Tongil Voice, and Ryomyong. This appears related to Pyongyang trying to work out Kim Jong Un’s new line on South Korea. Four months later, all remain offline.

: In a wide-ranging interview, MND Shin Won-sik tells Yonhap, South Korea’s quasi-official news agency, that Kim Jong Un’s recent inspection of munitions factories featured new close range ballistic missiles (CRBM) that can carry tactical nuclear weapons. Shin reckons Pyongyang may supply some to Russia. As of end-Dec North Korea has sent Moscow some 5,000 containers of weapons, which could hold 2.3 million rounds of 152 mm shells or 400,000 of 122 mm (sic). Going forward he expects new IRBM tests and non-lofted ICBM launches. Regarding the collapse of the inter-Korean Comprehensive Military Agreement (CMA) in Sept, noting how quickly the KPA re-occupied its former guardposts in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), Shin speculates that they had only been destroyed above-ground, with their underground structures remaining intact.

: Citing precedents from 2016 and 2020, ROK Vice Unification Minister Moon Seoung-hyun warns that with parliamentary elections upcoming in April, “North Korea will continue with its psychological warfare against the South to split public opinion and pressure the government.” (Looking back from May, it is far from clear whether Pyongyang even tried such tactics—much less succeeded.)

: As it has done ever since 1996, the Korean Institute for National Unification (KINU), the ROK government’s main think-tank on North Korea, releases its annual White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea (an English translation follows in May). Highlights—if that is the word—of this solid 800-page report include the first confirmation, from recent defectors, of a public execution for violating COVID-19 regulations; no details are given. In general public executions are now rarer, even as the number of capital offenses has grown. At the report’s launch, researcher Joung Eun-lee highlights sexual violence: a 2022 revision of 2015’s DPRK Criminal Code reduced maximum penalties for rape. 

: MND spokesman Jeon Ha-kyu confirms that since Seoul regards Pyongyang’s recent artillery firing as nullifying the former buffer zones, it too will resume military drills—live fire, and field or marine maneuvers—near the DMZ. The ROK military regards these exercises as important for operational readiness.

: Visiting Drone Operations Command (DOC) in Pocheon, 52 km northeast of Seoul), ROK Minister of National Defense (MND) Shin Won-sik calls for a strengthened defense posture, given that “North Korea keeps raising the level of asymmetric threats by bolstering its drone capability and advancing its nuclear and missile programs.” The DOC was created in Sept., following a Northern drone incursion in Dec. 2022. Pyongyang has since rolled out new surveillance and attack drones; Dec. 2023’s Workers’ Party (WPK) Plenum vowed to build yet more. 

: Experts consulted by NK News agree that Kim Yo Jong is playing mind-games: her claim of deception is itself meant to deceive. In fact Seoul has several ways to distinguish between maritime and terrestrial explosions. For one thing, it can detect splashdowns.

: ROK JCS declare that, since North Korea has resumed live-fire drills near the border, the South will do the same—not tit-for-tat, but “according to its own plan.”

: Kim Jong Un visits “major munitions factories” (unnamed) “to learn about the production of weapons and equipment.” Praising their achievements (while “pointing out some shortcomings”), he calls for “greater leaping progress…by further elevating the surged spirit [sic].” He also summarizes his new hard line toward South Korea (see Appendix, I).

: A military source tells Yonhap that most of the recent KPA shells landed in the former maritime buffer zone, some as close as 7 km to the Northern Limit Line (NLL, the de facto maritime border, which Pyongyang does not recognize). The source adds: “As North Korea vowed to scrap the inter-Korean military pact and conducted live-fire drills near the maritime buffer zone, mutually agreed buffer zones that ban hostile acts no longer exist.”

: Kim Yo Jong issues another statement. She claims the KPA did no sea shelling yesterday, but rather “conducted a deceptive operation” with explosions on land—to see if Seoul could tell the difference: “The ROK military gangsters quickly took the bait we threw.” The ROK JCS dismiss this claim as “psychological warfare” More briefly and soberly, the KPA General Staff confirms that on Jan. 6 “the southwest coastal defence of the 4th Corps…conducted a deceptive operation simulating shelling.” They admit they also held real shelling drills next day, but say this was just routine training—and not near the Military Demarcation Line (MDL, the de facto inter-Korean border): “any intentional threat was not exposed to an enemy state” (sic). NK News notes that the ROK JCS was vague as to the exact location of the North’s shelling on Jan. 6 and 7, having been precise regarding Jan. 5.

: ROK JCS report a second day of KPA coastal artillery firing.

: (North) Korean People’s Army (KPA) General Staff (GS) admits it held a live-fire drill between 0900-1100, with 192 shells fired from 47 “cannons.” However, “the direction of naval live-shell firing doesn’t give even an indirect effect on Paekryong and Yonphyong islands [as DPRK orthography renders them in English].” Calling this exercise a “natural countermeasure” to (unspecified) “military actions of the ROK military gangsters,” the KPA GS warns of “tough counteraction” to any provocation, adding: “The concept about the same nation and fellow countrymen has already been removed from our cognition.”

: ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) says that from 0900 to 1100 the DPRK fired some 200 shells into the sea from two locations: Jangsan Cape, north of South Korea’s northernmost island of Baengnyeong, and Deungsan Cape, north of the ROK’s western border island of Yeonpyeong. Residents of both islands are ordered to “evacuate” (meaning seek shelter, not to actually get off the islands: regular ferry services are briefly suspended).

: An unnamed MOU official says Pyongyang is “attempting to create tension on the Korean Peninsula and divide our society through threats and criticisms.” Specifically, they accuse the party daily Rodong Sinmun of exaggerating or distorting facts in covering South Korean protest rallies; e.g. by using photographs which were actually of a different event.

: MOU says it will dissolve a foundation supporting the former joint venture Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC), which Seoul shut down in 2016: “As the [KIC] has long been suspended, it is almost impossible for the foundation to normally carry out its…work.” Reports that the North is illicitly running 30 Southern-built and (nominally)—owned factories in the zone also influenced this decision. So didoperational inefficiencies”: running the foundation has cost the ROK government 58.4 billion won (almost $45 million) since 2016.

: DPRK Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, issues a press statement. Sarcastically, she thanks “President Yoon [Suk Yeol] [who], indeed, deserves to be granted the title of ‘special class hero,’ as he makes steady ‘contributions’…to bolster up the military muscle of the DPRK.” By contrast, she damns his liberal predecessor Moon Jae-in—South Korea’s friendliest leader ever towards the North, who in 2018 first invited her to Seoul and then held three summits with her brother—as “crafty” and deceptive.

: South Korea’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) launches a new early warning system to detect Northern defectors who need more support or are at risk. (See also Oct. 5 in our previous issue.)

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