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The Peninsula

South Korea’s Approach To Anti-Pyongyang Leaflets

Published June 17, 2020

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • On June 4, the Ministry of Unification announced plans to ban the deployment of balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang leaflets after North Korea issued a warning against these activities earlier that day.
  • On June 9, North Korea threatened to cut off all inter-Korean communication lines and did not answer routine military hotline calls from the South.
  • On June 11, the Ministry of Unification filed a legal complaint against two North Korean defector groups that sent anti-Pyongyang leaflets for violating inter-Korean cooperation, environmental, and aviation laws. The Ministry will also take steps to revoke government-issued business permits for those organizations.

Implications: The South Korean government’s recent decision to ban the deployment of anti-Pyongyang leaflets is consistent with the Moon administration’s ongoing effort to engage with North Korea. North Korea has issued threats over the leaflets before and Pyongyang routinely expresses its displeasure with Seoul by suspending communications. In response, the Moon administration has been looking for ways to prevent leaflet launches since 2017. Notably, this is the first time that the South Korean government invoked the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act and other laws to penalize groups that sent the leaflets.

Context: Previous conservative administrations have also used law enforcement to stop activist groups from deploying balloons with anti-Pyongyang leaflets to the North. However, the government’s responses were ad hoc and corresponded with the escalation of tensions with the North. Indeed, the government has never imposed punishments – the administration of both Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye rejected the notion that such balloon launches were illegal and did not take further legal steps to ban them outright.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of James Constant, Soojin Hwang, Sonia Kim, and Ingyeong Park.

Picture sources from Wikimedia commons

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