AP Analysis: N. Korea's dramatic bang part of measured plan

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - Just two years ago, the leaders of North and South Korea shared drinks, laughter, and vows for peace at three highly orchestrated peaks to reduce fear of war that had increased when Pyongyang chased an arsenal of nuclear missiles.
That is all gone for the time being and it ended with a bang.
The North blew up an empty office building on Tuesday, which allowed the two Koreas to speak personally in the North Korean border town of Kaesong. Pyongyang also said an important military agreement would be abolished to reduce conventional threats along the border.
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The largely symbolic explosion for television has destroyed the already waning hopes in South Korea that the fundamental basis for working with its rival could be saved. It has also fueled public fear that the Korean peninsula will once again take its place as a global hot spot.
While North Korea's actions may seem abrupt and ruthless, the Pyongyang leadership may be pursuing a carefully measured plan that aims to win concessions from the outside while showing the population a strong face in dealing with their rival.
It is a pattern that has been repeated over the decades. If Washington does not give the north what it wants, Pyongyang increases the pressure on the south.
North Korea could bet that despite the demolished building and hurt feelings due to the passion of liberal South Korean President Moon Jae-in for the engagement, Seoul can be brought back into the dialogue.
At the moment, the north seems to be concentrating on increasing tensions in phases.
It has stated its intention to send troops to now closed north-south cooperation sites in Kaesong and at the Diamond Mountain Resort, to reinstall guards and to resume military exercises in front areas. This would abolish a bilateral military agreement reached in 2018 that creates border buffers and no-fly zones, and increases the risk of clashes.
The public face of the youngest north-south bash is Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of leader Kim Jong Un, who has been confirmed as his chief official for inter-Korean affairs.
Kim Yo Jong, who smiles at meetings with South Korean officials on a rare visit to Seoul, now calls South Korea an "enemy" and has spoken out about Seoul's failure to prevent activists from sending flyers against Pyongyang across the border hover.
Although North Korea is sensitive to criticism of these leaflets, the country is unlikely to break ties with Seoul only because of something that has been going on for years.
Instead, the goal seems to be to regain the attention of the world - and Washington in particular - in order to receive much-needed help and empower a population who is worried about economic difficulties.
The calculated conflict in the north comes about during lengthy nuclear negotiations with President Donald Trump's government that have stalled over disagreements over the exchange of sanctions relief against disarmament steps. It is also coming as the coronavirus pandemic is likely to continue to fight the already broken North Korean economy.
The north could deliberately blame the south for building internal unity and averting public attention from diplomatic failures and economic shortcomings.
Kim Jong Un entered the last year of an ambitious five-year national development plan and declared a "frontal breakthrough" against sanctions in December while calling on his nation to remain resilient in the struggle for economic independence.
However, experts say that the COVID-19 crisis has likely thwarted some of Kim's key economic goals by forcing the country to impose a self-imposed lock that closed the big donor China border and potentially compromising its ability to help people Mobilize workers.
The economic setbacks have nothing to show Kim for his high-stakes summit with Trump. Diplomacy began to implode in Vietnam last year after its second meeting when the Americans rejected North Korea's demands for significant sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of their nuclear capabilities.
It is impossible for a North Korean leader to admit to his people that he may have done something wrong. It's much easier to shift the blame to a scapegoat like South Korea, who acted as an intermediary in the Washington-Pyongyang negotiations.
In her recent statement against the south on Wednesday, Kim Yo Jong Moon accused her of betraying the summit agreements reached with her brother by accepting the "compulsion of his master," a reference to Washington.
For months, North Korea was frustrated with Seoul's inability to make concessions from the United States on its behalf, and urged its rivals to oppose the sanctions to restart inter-Korean economic cooperation.
Next, the north will likely continue to build tensions, possibly resume artillery and other border exercises, and intentionally allow ships to cross the controversial western maritime border between Korea.
These controversial waters have seen bloody battles in the past, including a 2010 attack on a South Korean naval ship that killed 46 seafarers. The North does not recognize the western maritime border that the United States unilaterally drew at the end of the Korean War in 1950-53.
Some believe that the north may now put pressure on the south to increase its bargaining power before returning to negotiations with the United States after the November presidential election. They say that North Korea is unlikely to want to make any major concessions now if there is a chance that the U.S. leadership could change.
However, it is a game of chance, and North Korea may never get a more favorable political situation to negotiate a deal than it is now.
Trump, who has a commitment to North Korea like no other US president, is not guaranteed a victory in November. And while Moon prefers engagement after decades of bloodshed and hostility, many South Koreans are deeply concerned about their northern neighbor.
Associate press clerk Kim Tong-hyung has been reporting on Korea since 2014.

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