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Hwang Pyong-so’s visit to South Korea through the eyes of a former UFD official

North Korea’s top military representative Hwang Pyong-so, concurrently in charge of military affairs at the Organisation and Guidance Department (OGD), visited South Korea on October 4 for the stated purpose of attending the closing ceremony of the Asian Games. He was accompanied by Party Secretary for inter-Korean affairs Kim Yang-gon and Chair of the National Sports Guidance Committee Choe Ryong-hae.

Only a few days ago, North Korea was issuing threats of military provocation, and hurling very colourful insults at South Korean President Park Geun-hye. In any account, the visit makes for an abrupt U-turn in North Korea’s approach to inter-Korean relations.

Under Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s interactions with South Korea have lost their strategic coherence and consistency, in a manner that contrasts with the coordination and centralisation that were hallmarks of Kim Jong-il’s time.

In the past, North Korea established and planned in advance the inter-Korean objectives to be accomplished by taking a “hardline” turn: to encourage the giving of aid in exchange for the easing of tactically devised “tensions”; to strengthen North Korea’s position and leverage by resorting to pincer pressure; to consolidate the DPRK domestic mood to create a policy environment favourable for its goals.

“Hardline” signals were a staple tool in North Korea’s arsenal for creating inter-Korean leverage. The signals were always part of a larger campaign where goals and steps were set, executed, valid only for a pre-defined period and scrupulously managed.

With a level of tenacity and persistence that might be judged as obsessive by the outside world, and with utmost professionalism, inter-Korean psychological warfare units worked to ensure that engagement and interaction with South Korea would end in one of several of North Korea’s strategically planned outcomes.

The potential emotional reactions and public-mood responses of South Korean civil society and discourse too were always taken into account and utilised as …read more

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