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May 29, 2024, 6:23pm EDT
East Asia
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Semafor Signals

North Korea launches excrement balloons over border as ties with South worsen

Insights from The Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal, Chosun Daily


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Yonhap via REUTERS
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The News

North Korea deployed around 260 balloons filled with bags of trash and excrement into South Korea on Wednesday, triggering emergency warnings and sending chemical and explosive teams scrambling.

South Korea’s defense ministry said that the bags were filled with “o-mul,” which can mean “trash” or “excrement” in Korean. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, defended the balloons as “gifts of sincerity” and pooh poohed allegations that they violated international law: “I cannot understand why they are making a fuss as if they were hit by [a] shower of bullets,” she said, according to The Wall Street Journal.

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The regime had earlier vowed payback after a North Korean defector-turned-activist sent 20 balloons stuffed with 300,000 leaflets condemning Kim Jong Un, as well USB drives containing K-pop songs and K-dramas.

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SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

Pyongyang fears balloon drops could weaken loyalty to regime

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Sources:  
The Wall Street Journal, BBC, Associated Press

Ties between the Koreas — which remain technically at war since the Korean War ended in 1953 without a peace deal — have worsened this year. In January, Pyongyang said it would rewrite its constitution to label South Korea its No. 1 enemy. Air drops are a critical source of tension, as activists and defectors from the South continue to send across the border balloons filled with anti-regime leaflets and USB drives with K-pop music. Pyongyang fears these could spark an ideological shift. “Foreign content from South Korea has become the primary threat for the Kim regime,” a professor at Dong-A University told the WSJ. In 2020 Seoul criminalized the sending of anti-Pyongyang leaflets, but high court justices overturned the ban, saying it curbed freedom of expression.

North Korea’s relationship with key ally China may be shifting

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Sources:  
Associated Press, Reuters, 38 North

A failed attempt by North Korea to launch a spy satellite this week was a highly unusual move likely to provoke its major ally China, which was engaged in high-level diplomacy at a summit with Japan and South Korea in Seoul, The Associated Press reported. Pyongyang issued a rare rebuke of China after the three nations used the rare trilateral meeting to reiterate their commitment to preserving regional stability and to call for the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. “The North’s relations with China have looked to be cooling over the last year, but this is the first time in recent years any signs of trouble have broken into the open,” researcher Rachel Minyoung Lee wrote for 38 North, a website specializing in North Korea.

Spy satellites could pose a threat to South Korea

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Sources:  
Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, Chosun Daily

North Korea’s failed satellite launch this week was part of an ongoing attempt to build a space-based surveillance system to monitor the US and South Korea, which experts say could pose a threat to its southern neighbor. Leader Kim Jong Un vowed in December to launch three more reconnaissance satellites this year after successfully placing the first into orbit the month before — despite the UN banning North Korea from conducting satellite launches, which it considers as disguised long-range missile tests. So far the country has lacked the satellite reconnaissance capability needed to launch ballistic or cruise missiles, but a second spy satellite “would pose a significant threat to South Korea,” an unnamed South Korean military intelligence source told the Chosun Daily.

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