North Korean leader Kim Jong-un looks out to the south as he inspects Jangjae Islet Defense Detachment near North Korea's southwestern sector of the front on Thursday. Photo: AFP / KCNA via KNS
North Korea vowed Friday to sever an emergency hotline with South Korea and scrap a cease-fire agreement between the two neighbors, unleashing renewed tensions on the Korean Peninsula after the UN Security Council (UNSC) voted unanimously to toughen sanctions against Pyongyang.
A statement from the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said that Pyongyang "abrogates all agreements on non-aggression reached between the North and the South."
It said the pacts would be voided as of Monday, the same day that Pyongyang vowed to rip up the 1953 armistice agreement that ended Korean War hostilities.
"It also notifies the South side that it will immediately cut off the North-South hotline," the committee said.
The statement came hours after the UNSC passed a resolution concerning the "toughest" sanctions yet against the North, targeting its financial dealings and attempts to ship and receive banned cargo.
Lü Chao, an expert on the Korean Peninsula at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that Pyongyang has been facing "unprecedented" pressure after China and Russia's approval of the sanctions and due to a series of US-South Korea military drills in the region.
According to AFP, the North may be gearing up for nationwide military maneuvers of its own next week, fuelling concerns about a border incident.
KCNA said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Thursday visited a frontline military unit involved in the shelling of the South's Yeonpyeong Island in 2010.
During his inspection, Kim declared the North was ready for "all-out war" and that he would order a frontline assault in response to any perceived aggression.
Meanwhile, the North's vice defense minister Kang Pyo-yong Thursday said the North had intercontinental ballistic missiles on standby, "loaded with light and miniaturized nuclear warheads."
In response, South Korean President Park Geun-hye Friday vowed to "sternly deal with future provocations" by the North, warning it against "self-destruction."
China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters Friday that Beijing has noticed reports about Pyongyang's recent rhetoric, which warned of a preemptive nuclear strike against the US and a second Korean War, and expressed its concerns.
Jie Hae-bum, director of the Institute of Northeast Asian Studies at the South's The Chosun Ilbo, told the Global Times that Pyongyang's rhetoric has reached a new level of intensity. "Though the possibility for an armed conflict remains slim, North Korea is very likely to stage further provocations."
"It upholds the view of countering toughness with very strong reactions, so as to force its opponents to back down. Judging from the current situation, the North is not going to yield to international pressure, but will only double its strong reactions," Lü noted.
Regarding the current confrontation on the peninsula as "grave," Lü said "partial and moderate" clashes, like the one that happened on Yeonpyeong Island, may take place.
Glyn Davies, the US government's point man on North Korea, Thursday testified before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee that China played a critical role at the Security Council and in its direct dealings with Pyongyang, Voice of America reported. He said, "I think there are signs that China is beginning to step up even more robustly to play a role [in dealing with North Korea]."
China's UN envoy Li Baodong said Beijing wanted "full implementation" of the new resolution.
However, foreign observers are skeptical over how strictly China would enforce it.
Zhang Xiaoan, a deputy head of the UN Association of China, told the Global Times that such skepticism toward China is biased and unnecessary. "According to my knowledge, during the process of negotiations over the content of the sanctions, China thoroughly considered to what extent it could enforce them. The current resolution is what China agreed to implement," she said. Asked whether China's support of the UN resolution signaled a change in its policy toward the North, Hua didn't directly answer the question, but noted that the new resolution is "balanced" as it also promised to solve the problem through dialogues and negotiation.
Both Zhang and Lü said that China's policy toward Pyongyang is consistent, noting that the support for the resolution was a warning for its nuclear ambition.
"If there is any fine-tuning in China's policy, I believe Beijing may not deliver the unconditional economic aid to the North it used to," Lü said.
In fact, China doesn't hold the key to the issue, Zhang said, noting that the North only wants to solve problems with the US directly. "As long as Washington doesn't change its stance, even if China keeps pulling Pyongyang back to the negotiation table, it wouldn't cause much progress," she said.
Agencies contributed to this story