Amid confusion over a South Korean statement about a possible nuclear test, North Korea has dropped a smaller bombshell on the peninsula, announcing they will effectively shut down their joint-industrial complex near the border. From a purely practical standpoint, the North's decision to withdraw its own workers from the Kaesong factories does far more damage to itself than any of its enemies. It not only shuts off the final economic lifeline to the South, it puts 50,000 of its own citizens out of work and robs the country of one of its only sources of much needed hard currency. The closure will hardly make a blip in the South Korean economy, but following through on the threat would mean Pyongyang is willing to cripple its own already fragile economic situation simply to send a symbolic message to its rivals.
Meanwhile, in Seoul, ministers there tried to walk back an earlier statement suggesting that a fourth North Korean nuclear test was imminent. Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae says he misspoke when he was quoted saying in a parliamentary session that there was "an indication" of increased activity at the site where the North conducted its last underground nuclear test. Local (and global) media ran with that story as confirmation that there would soon be a fourth test, but Ryoo said that wasn't what he meant to say. He claims now that what he actually meant is that there is always activity at that site and the North could conduct a test whenever it wants, but that doesn't mean one is imminent.
So for now, the two sides are back to their waiting game. United States officials still believe that some sort of missile test may come in the next several days or weeks, as the North seems determined on a show of force before it even thinks of dialing down tensions with the South.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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