Kim Yo-jong (AP-Yonhap)
North Korea could carry out a major "Christmas gift" provocation around the time of November's US presidential election unless the current tensions are properly dealt with, an expert said Thursday.
Last year, the North threatened to carry out an unspecified provocative act as a "Christmas gift" to the US in protest of stalled nuclear negotiations, spurring speculation that it could be a new intercontinental ballistic missile launch or similar testing of strategic weapons. But the North did not put the threat into action.
In recent weeks the North has been sharply ratcheting up tensions in anger over propaganda leaflets defectors in the South send across the border to criticize leader Kim Jong-un. The North has blown up an inter-Korean liaison office and threatened a series of military actions.
"If we do not handle the current inter-Korean tensions well, North Korea may send its 'Christmas gift' that it mentioned last year," Lee Jung-chul, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Soongsil University, said during a security forum in Seoul.
Lee said that the government should try to prevent the tensions from escalating further, pointing out that a land mine incident at the Demilitarized Zone in 2015 led to the North's fifth nuclear test.
"We are at a crossroads that puts our government's competency in diplomacy and inter-Korean political affairs to the test."
He also said that the two special envoys South Korea offered to send to the North were not the most suitable choices.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's sister Kim Yo-jong said the North rejected South Korea's offer to send special envoys, naming National Security Director Chung Eui-yong and National Intelligence Service Director Suh Hoon.
"North Korea thinks these two are partially responsible for the breakdown of the Hanoi negotiations," Lee said, referring to the no-deal summit between the US and the North in the Vietnamese capital in February last year. "The offer wouldn't have appealed to Kim Yo-jong." (Yonhap)