North Korea Sends 330 Trash-Filled Balloons to South Korea: Tensions at Their Peak

The failure of the 2019 Hanoi summit between Kim and former US President Donald Trump was a "traumatic moment of embarrassment for Kim," five years later, North Korea believes "the time is ripe to challenge the status quo"

by Sededin Dedovic
North Korea Sends 330 Trash-Filled Balloons to South Korea: Tensions at Their Peak
© Sky News / Youtube channel

The South Korean military estimated that on Saturday, Pyongyang sent another 330 balloons filled with trash across the border in response to South Korean activists sending propaganda leaflets to the north. "About 80 (balloons) have fallen in our area so far, and nothing has currently been identified in the air," the South Korean military said in a statement.

Yesterday, they announced they were on alert for the possible arrival of balloons from North Korea. Analysis of the balloons showed they did not contain "any dangerous substances," the statement added. "North Korea is engaging in another low-level provocation by launching trash-filled balloons into our civilian areas," stated Seoul Mayor Oh Se-Hun.

In two waves last week, Pyongyang sent several hundred balloons filled with trash to its southern neighbor, which included cigarette butts and animal excrement. According to Pyongyang, these "sincere gifts" were in response to South Korean activists sending balloons filled with propaganda material critical of the North Korean authorities.

North Korea had then announced it would stop these actions. However, on Friday, a group of North Koreans who had fled to the south announced they had sent ten balloons with 200,000 leaflets against Pyongyang, as well as USB drives with recorded K-pop and South Korean TV series, towards North Korea, where such content is strictly forbidden.

Suspension of the 2018 Agreement

The South Korean Presidential National Security Council (NSC) decided just a few days ago (June 3) to suspend the military agreement with Pyongyang from 2018 until mutual trust is restored, in response to the massive sending of trash-filled balloons from North Korea to South Korea.

At a meeting where the recent series of North Korean provocations was assessed, the Council decided to propose the suspension of the Comprehensive Military Agreement at a cabinet meeting scheduled for Tuesday, reports Yonhap.

According to the proposal, the suspension of the military agreement would last "until mutual trust between the two Koreas is restored," stated the presidential office's announcement. At the NSC meeting, it was noted that this measure would allow military training near the military demarcation line and enable more adequate and urgent responses to North Korean provocations.

"The government will take all necessary measures to protect the lives and safety of our citizens," the presidential office highlighted in its statement. Since Thursday, North Korea has sent nearly 1,000 balloons with trash into South Korea in a campaign against South Korean activists who send balloons with propaganda material criticizing the North Korean authorities, according to Pyongyang.

There have been no human casualties in this action, but the fall of some balloons caused material damage, Yonhap reports. At the beginning of this week, South Korea announced that it would soon take significant retaliatory steps against North Korea, which is launching trash-filled balloons across the border.

A few hours after this warning, North Korea announced that it would temporarily suspend the sending of trash-filled balloons to South Korea, reported the state agency KCNA, citing a statement from the country's deputy defense minister.

In April 2018, then-South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong Un met in the village of Panmunjom and signed the Panmunjom Declaration, followed by a joint declaration signed in Pyongyang in September 2018.

The military agreement, an annex to the joint declaration, was signed on September 19, 2018, to stop all hostile military actions and establish buffer zones across the inter-Korean border on land, sea, and air.

Is North Korea Preparing for War?

North Korea is once again ramping up its war rhetoric against South Korea and the United States.

This time, however, some analysts warn that the threat goes beyond the usual noise made by Kim Jong Un. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has recently referred to South Korea as a hostile state several times. He has dismissed the possibility of peaceful reunification with South Korea.

At the beginning of the year, Kim called for an "exponential" expansion of North Korea's nuclear arsenal and increased ballistic missile testing. He also promised to launch three new spy satellites. In his speech, Kim accused South Korea and the United States of "reckless moves" in preparing for an "invasion" and warned that "war on the Korean peninsula could break out at any moment." Six months have passed since then, and the situation on the Korean peninsula is the most tense it has been in recent decades.

Throughout 2023, North Korea launched a record number of missiles, including one in December claimed to be an intercontinental ballistic missile with nuclear capability that could hit targets anywhere in the United States.

At the end of last year, it also launched a rocket that placed a spy satellite into orbit.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S.

President Donald Trump 2019© Handout / Getty Images

The failure of the 2019 Hanoi summit between Kim and former US President Donald Trump was a "traumatic loss of face for Kim." The talks were focused on the possibility of easing sanctions in exchange for North Korea's promise to shut down its weapons program, but none of this succeeded. Five years later, North Korea believes it is "time to challenge the status quo," analysts told DW.

President Donald Trump Donald Trump