North Korea says it will stop floating trash balloons into South Korea | Politics News

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North Korea says it will stop floating trash balloons into South Korea | Politics News

North Korea called its campaign a ‘countermeasure’ against propaganda leaflets floated into the country by South Korean activists.

North Korea says it will stop sending trash-filled balloons across the border into South Korea, claiming its campaign has been an effective countermeasure against propaganda sent by anti-regime activists in the neighbouring country.

Since Tuesday, North Korea floated hundreds of balloons carrying bags of rubbish containing everything from cigarette butts to bits of cardboard and plastic, Seoul’s military said on Sunday, threatening to retaliate if the provocations do not stop.

Hours later, North Korea said it would halt the campaign.

“We made the ROK [Republic of Korea] clans get enough experience of how much unpleasant they feel and how much effort is needed to remove the scattered wastepaper,” said Kim Kang Il, a North Korean vice defence minister, in a statement carried by state media.

However, he warned that if South Korean activists float anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets via balloons again, North Korea will resume flying its own balloons to dump trash hundreds of times the amount of the South Korean leaflets found in the North.

‘Low class’

South Korea has called the balloons and simultaneous GPS jamming from its nuclear-armed neighbour “irrational” and “low class”. But unlike the spate of recent ballistic missile launches, the refuse campaign doesn’t violate United Nations sanctions on Kim Jong Un’s isolated regime.

Seoul warned it would take strong countermeasures unless Pyongyang called off the balloon bombardment, saying it runs counter to the armistice agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War hostilities.

Activists in the South have also floated their own balloons over the border, filled with leaflets and sometimes cash, rice or USB thumb drives loaded with K-dramas.

Earlier this week, Pyongyang described its “sincere gifts” as a retaliation for the propaganda-laden balloons sent into North Korea.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the balloons had been landing in northern provinces, including the capital Seoul and the adjacent area of Gyeonggi, which are collectively home to nearly half of South Korea’s population.

The latest batch of balloons were full of “waste such as cigarette butts, scrap paper, fabric pieces and plastic,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, adding that military officials and police were collecting them.

“Our military is conducting surveillance and reconnaissance from the launch points of the balloons, tracking them through aerial reconnaissance, and collecting the fallen debris, prioritising public safety,” it said.

A balloon believed to have been sent by North Korea, carrying various objects including what appeared to be trash and excrement, is seen over a rice field at Cheorwon, South Korea
A balloon believed to have been sent by North Korea [Yonhap via Reuters]

Balloon wars

South Korea’s National Security Council met on Sunday and a presidential official said Seoul would not rule out responding to the balloons by resuming loudspeaker propaganda campaigns along the border with North Korea.

In the past, South Korea has broadcast anti-Kim propaganda into the North, which infuriates Pyongyang.

“If Seoul chooses to resume anti-North broadcast via loudspeakers along the border, which Pyongyang dislikes as much as anti-Kim balloons, it could lead to limited armed conflict along border areas, such as in the West Sea,” said Cheong Seong-Chang, director of the Korean Peninsula strategy at Sejong Institute.

In 2018, during a period of improved inter-Korean relations, both leaders agreed to “completely cease all hostile acts against each other in every domain”, including the distribution of leaflets.

South Korea’s parliament passed a law in 2020 criminalising sending leaflets into the North, but the law – which did not deter the activists – was struck down last year as a violation of free speech.

Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong – one of Pyongyang’s key spokespeople – mocked South Korea for complaining about the balloons this week, saying North Koreans were simply exercising their freedom of expression.