North Korea looked to ratchet up already elevated tensions on the Korean peninsula still further on Thursday, firing a pair of short-range missiles and announcing the liquidation of all remaining South Korean assets on its territory. The moves were a direct response to unilateral sanctions announced by South Korea on Tuesday to punish the North for its January nuclear test and last month’s long-range rocket launch. Military tensions have been on the rise ever since the January testâ€”the fourth nuclear device North Korea has detonated in defiance of UN resolutions.
The UN Security Council responded with tough, new sanctions, which Pyongyang condemned as a “gangster-like” provocation orchestrated by the United States.
The North also reacted furiously to the start earlier this week of large-scale South Korea-US military drills, threatening pre-emptive nuclear strikes against both Seoul and the US mainland.
The asset seizure announced on Thursday referred to two now-shuttered joint projects, the Mount Kumgang tourism resort and the Kaesong joint industrial complex. “We will completely liquidate all assets of South Korean firms and related institutions left behind in our region,” the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in statement carried by the North’s official KCNA news agency.
â€˜Nullify all agreementsâ€™
“From this time on, we nullify all agreements adopted by North and South Korea on economic cooperation and exchange programmes,” the committee said.
It also warned of other unspecified “special measures”â€”political, military and economicâ€”it would take against the South in the future.
South Korea announced the suspension of operations at the Seoul-funded Kaesong industrial complex last month, saying that money Pyongyang made from the venture was going towards its nuclear weapons programme.
The shock announcement prompted the North to expel all South Koreans from the estate and freeze all assets there, shutting down the last symbol of cross-border economic cooperation. An association representing the 120 firms operating factories in Kaesong, which lies just across the North Korean border, estimated the value of the assets left behind at 820 billion won ($663 million).
The head of the association, Jeong Gi-Seob, described the liquidation order as “outrageous”.
“No one can liquidate private assets unilaterally. I appeal to both the South and the North to consider the companies’ interests and allow us to come to the North and wrap things up,” Jeong said.
The Kaesong estate employed more than 53,000 North Koreans making items such as textiles, footwear and cheap electronics.
N Korea fires missiles, liquidates South assets