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North Korea fired field artillery rounds near the de facto maritime border between North and South Korea on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. On Wednesday alone, it is estimated that the North fired more than 100 rounds into North Korean waters 2 to 3 km from the Northern Limit Line. It is the first time the North has fired field guns in the area, and it has made clear its intention to continue doing so.

The artillery fire over the Yellow Sea could heighten tensions throughout the whole of Northeast Asia. The South Korean Defense Ministry said, “Our military forces will sternly deal with the North’s provocative actions and the North will be held responsible for any ensuing consequences.” It is hoped that South Korea will deal with the situation in a cool-headed manner.

The North had threatened to start a “holy war of revenge” after South Korea worked out a plan to cope with a sudden change in North Korea’s domestic political stability. The North also reacted strongly when the South Korean defense minister hinted at carrying out a preemptive attack in the case of there being signs that the North would launch a nuclear attack.

It may be that North Korea is carrying out this provocation as a means of getting concessions from South Korea in bilateral talks over economic exchanges. Another possible reason for the artillery fire is to prod the United States to open talks about turning the Korean War armistice into a peace treaty.

But this year, North Korea also called on South Korea to resume dialogue and improve bilateral ties, specifically in such matters as tourism in Kumgangsan and Kaesong and communication, as well as traffic and customs clearance related to the Kaesong industrial complex.

Within North Korea, the redenomination in November of its currency, the won, has caused confusion in markets and anger among the North Korean people.

Despite its second nuclear test last year, the North’s behavior hints that it is in a rather weak position due to economic difficulties. The United States, Japan and South Korea should unite and make the North realize that returning to the six-party talks on its nuclear weapons programs is the only way for it to be accepted by the international community.

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