North Korea has ordered its troops on war footing, against South Korea, after an ultimatum to stop propaganda broadcasts, or face military action, was rejected.
North Korea put its troops on a war footing on Friday as South Korea rejected an ultimatum to stop propaganda broadcasts or face military action, prompting China to voice concern and urge both sides to step back.
South Korean Vice Defense Minister Baek Seung-joo said his government expected the North to fire at some of the 11 sites where Seoul has set up loudspeakers on its side of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the countries.
The South earlier rejected an ultimatum that it halt anti-Pyongyang broadcasts by Saturday afternoon or face attack.
The North’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement the military and the public stood ready to safeguard its regime even if it meant fighting an all-out war, and it rejected the idea of restraint in an apparent rebuff of China’s calls.
Official media said Pyongyang’s military was not bluffing.
China, which remains reclusive North Korea’s main economic backer despite diminished political clout to influence Pyongyang, said it was deeply concerned about the escalation of tension and called for calm from both sides.
Since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, Pyongyang and Seoul have often exchanged threats, and dozens of soldiers have been killed in clashes, yet the two sides have always pulled back from all-out war.
The latest hostility is a further blow to South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s efforts to improve North-South ties, which have been virtually frozen since the deadly 2010 sinking of a South Korean navy ship, which Seoul blames on Pyongyang.
Park canceled an event on Friday and made a visit to a military command post, dressed in army camouflage.
Both sides traded harsh rhetoric late into Friday night.
The North committed “cowardly criminal acts,” South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo said. “This time, I will make sure to sever the vicious cycle of North Korea’s provocations.”
North Korea launched four artillery shells into South Korea on Thursday, according to Seoul, in apparent protest against the broadcasts. The South fired back 29 artillery rounds. Pyongyang accused the South of inventing a pretext to fire into the North.
Both sides reported no casualties or damage in their territory, indicating the rounds were just warning shots.
“The fact that both sides’ shells didn’t damage anything means they did not want to spread an armed clash. There is always a chance for war, but that chance is very, very low,” said Yang Moo-jin, professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
Joel Wit of 38 North, a North Korea monitoring project at John Hopkins University in Washington, said the artillery exchanges were worrying but things could well cool off again.
“When it’s happened in the past, there have been dangers of escalation and the US has had to restrain South Korea. It’s a very dangerous situation, though it could die down and chances are, it will die down,” he said.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed on Friday for North and South Korea not to take any action that could further aggravate tensions.