Korea conflict: North Korea sends garbage balloons to the South – Politics

On Wednesday afternoon, the General Staff of the South Korean Armed Forces (JCS) corrected its earlier statement on the North Korean garbage balloon attack. The regime of ruler Kim Jong-un had not let 150 balloons filled with garbage bags float across the border zone into South Korea since Tuesday night, as initially estimated. Instead, it had let around 260. The dirty cargo had fallen primarily in the border region and around the capital Seoul. But also in completely different places, for example in the southeastern province of Gyeongsangnam, hundreds of kilometers from the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas. The military initially reported no major damage. The incident was probably more strange than dangerous. Nevertheless, the South Koreans were fed up. The JCS spoke of an “inhuman and vulgar act.”

There are worse weapons than balloons filled with garbage. Perhaps the garbage bags from North Korea can even help us better understand society under the party dictatorship; what is thrown away always says something about a country’s consumer behavior and way of life. But of course the South Korean army could not underestimate the incident.

Between North Korea and South Korea, not only garbage is sent by balloon, but also propaganda material. (Photo: AP)

At first, it was not known what exactly the North Korean balloons were bringing into the country. People in the affected areas were asked not to touch the landed objects under any circumstances. Special military units collected them to ensure that they were not poisonous, biologically hazardous or radioactive. Photos showed wires and electrical devices on the balloons – there was speculation that they could be equipped with a remote detonator for bombs.

So far, nothing dramatic has been found. The official version has remained that the garbage bags mainly contained plastic bottles, batteries, parts of shoes and manure. And the independent North Korea portal NK News reassured Eric Foley, executive director of the non-profit Christian organization Voice of the Martyrsall those who feared the worst. Electronics are “not a new wave of advanced technology”; North Korea simply wants to attract attention. Eric Foley knows a lot about balloons. His organization regularly launches high-tech weather balloons filled with non-flammable helium in order to send Bibles to North Korea to its often oppressed fellow believers.

“The wind will change again.”

The history of balloon propaganda from South to North and North to South goes back to the Korean War from 1950 to 1953. Today, balloons are the means of transport of choice, especially for human rights activists in South Korea, to supply people on the other side of the border with leaflets critical of the regime and products from the capitalist consumer world. Such shipments are a serious threat to North Korea’s propaganda machine. Between 2016 and 2018, the government in Pyongyang retaliated with garbage balloons. Now it’s doing it again.

Most recently, prominent Kim Jong-un critic Park Sang-hak announced that he had sent 300,000 leaflets and 2,000 USB sticks with K-pop and other South Korean music from South Korea using balloons. Pyongyang was furious. On Sunday, North Korea’s Vice Minister of Defense Kim Kang-il announced retaliation with “mountains of waste paper and dirt.” On Wednesday night, the wind suited the plan.

This time North Korea has released a particularly large number of balloons, South Korea’s JCS stated. And they will probably not be the last. A new balloon exchange seems to have started. South Korea’s former president Moon Jae-in had a law banning balloon actions against North Korea during his term in office so that Kim Jong-un would no longer have to be annoyed. But last year the Constitutional Court revoked the law because it violated freedom of expression. Park Sang-hak can therefore continue to annoy North Korea with his balloons. He has already announced retaliation for Pyongyang’s retaliation. “In the past few days, the wind has been favorable for Kim Jong-un,” he told the NK News“but the wind will change again.” And Park’s retaliation will likely be followed at some point by another from the north.

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