The rhetoric from the North has been fueled by its anger over both recent U.N. sanctions and a combined military exercise by U.S. and South Korean forces that began Monday and is scheduled to last until March 21.
A statement Monday from U.S. forces in Korea said that North Korea was notified by the U.N. command on Feb. 21 about the drills schedule and that it is an annual . . . combined exercise that is not related to current events on the Korean Peninsula.
Still, there has been a notable ratcheting-up of tension since the December rocket launching that the United States and others say marked a significant advance in North Korean missile technology.
In response, the U.N. Security Council in January froze the assets of and banned travel by a group of North Koreans with ties to the rocket program and froze the assets of the Norths committee for space technology. The Security Council resolution warned the North not to embark on any further provocations.
Pyongyang, in turn, detonated a nuclear device last month that state media there referred to as a test of a smaller and lighter A-bomb. That description of North Koreas third nuclear test left many observers wondering whether the Hermit Kingdom is pushing to create a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on a long-range missile.
That led to the Security Council on Thursday adding yet more names to the travel ban and asset freeze black list. In addition, the council passed a series of measures meant to stunt the North Korean weapons programs, including authorizing the seizure of bulk cash transiting countries on the way to Pyongyang, and inspecting ships or denying airspace to planes if theyre suspected of transporting banned items to North Korea.
In an effort to squeeze the elite, the sanctions also forbade the export of luxury goods such as expensive jewelry, yachts and racing cars to the North.
Meanwhile, a statement by the North Korean military last week, carried by state press, threatened a nuclear exchange. The U.S. imperialists seek to attack the DPRK even with nuclear weapons, the statement said, using the initials for North Koreas official name, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea. Pyongyang, the statement threatened, will counter them with diversified precision nuclear strike.
The North is not thought to currently have the capacity to launch such an attack on the continental United States, but its neighbors to the south were not pleased.
The South Korean military responded by warning it would strike back at the North and destroy its command leadership, if provoked by Pyongyang, according to Yonhap.
The Norths continued willingness to defy international sanctions has appeared to seriously fray relations with its major backer, China. While Beijing sees North Korea as an important buffer between itself and U.S.-allied South Korea, and has long sought to avoid destabilization of Pyongyang that could affect its borders, there has been a series of signals that patience has worn thin.
For instance, an editor at the Study Times, a journal belonging to the Central Party School of the Chinese Communist Party, wrote in a column published by The Financial Times last month that China should give up on Pyongyang and press for the reunification of the Korean peninsula.
Theres been no official announcement that any such step is being considered by Beijing, but an editor from a party publication floating the idea, albeit via a foreign newspaper, made it clear that China is frustrated.
CORRECTION: Paragraph 6 of this version has been changed to correct the name of the Ministry of Unification.