North and South Korean negotiators continued a marathon session of talks aimed at lowering tensions across their heavily fortified border as Kim Jong Un stepped up the mobilization of his forces.
The second session of the talks has continued for 18 hours as of 9:30 a.m. in Seoul and there was little sign of progress. It follows a 10-hour session between the officials earlier in the weekend. North Korea has deployed amphibious landing crafts to the front line to keep up its combat readiness, Yonhap reported Monday citing military sources.
The officials are holding “tense and long” negotiations with the understanding that the Korean peninsula is facing a grave security crisis, South Korean presidential spokeswoman Chun Hye Ran said by phone.
The border crisis is adding to pressure on markets from the fallout of China’s devaluation of the yuan this month that has slammed most Asian currencies and dragged stock markets lower. South Korea’s Finance Ministry said it will act “pre-emptively” after the nation’s largest exchange-traded fund suffered the biggest weekly withdrawal since its inception 15 years ago.
As the talks dragged on, North Korea dispatched more than two thirds of its submarines from ports and doubled its front-line artillery forces, a South Korean military official said. The submarines are a particular concern for the South, which has accused the North of sinking one of its ships with a submarine-launched torpedo in 2010.
The current standoff, triggered over accusations that North Korea laid land mines that maimed two South Korean soldiers, is one of the most serious since Kim became Supreme Leader in late 2011. An uneasy truce on the peninsula is periodically disrupted by exchanges of fire that peter out before they escalate, though Kim’s relative inexperience and the unpredictable regime in Pyongyang keeps tensions high.
The South Korean won fell to the lowest in four years as talks dragged on, and the benchmark Kospi stock index declined for a sixth day at the opening. The Bank of Korea held an emergency meeting Monday morning to discuss the crisis and will prepare measures necessary to stabilize markets while closely monitoring North Korea risks, the bank said in a statement.
The crisis mirrors previous incidents and the North’s threats to unleash a “shower of fire” on the South are typical of the rhetoric used by the North.
The Kim regime previously declared “a state of war” during U.S.-South Korean drills in 2013, a month after conducting its third nuclear test. In 2010, North Korea shelled a South Korean island, killing four and last year their ships exchanged warning fire near a disputed Yellow Sea boundary.
“Raise the stakes and seize the initiative, that is, leave the big powers hanging and eager for negotiations in the face of provocations -- that’s Pyongyang’s time-tested mode of operation,” Lee Sung-Yoon, a professor of Korean studies at Tufts University, said by e-mail.
The latest flare up also comes at a time of joint military exercises between South Korea and the U.S., which maintains more then 28,000 troops in the country to repel any possible attack from the North. The Kim regime calls the drills a rehearsal for invasion and has demanded they be suspended.
Tensions have been building this month after two South Korean soldiers on patrol in the demilitarized zone were injured by the mines that the government in Seoul said were recently laid by North Korea. North Korea denied setting the devices.
South Korea retaliated for the mine blasts by resuming propaganda broadcasts through loudspeakers for the first time since 2004. North Korea views any criticism of its leader as an offense to the nation and restricts the flow of information about the outside world and threatened to retaliate if they weren’t removed.
South Korea said Thursday that North Korea fired shells into its territory, and responded with a barrage of artillery. Kim then gave the South 48 hours to end the broadcasts or face attack. That deadline passed without incident as the talks began on Saturday.