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North Korea's Stepped-Up Rhetoric: Is It More Than Talk?

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North Korea's Stepped-Up Rhetoric: Is It More Than Talk?

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North Korea's Stepped-Up Rhetoric: Is It More Than Talk?

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Please pardon the touch of laryngitis this morning. North Korea says that it's entering a state of war with South Korea. It has put its missile units on standby to attack U.S. military bases in the Pacific. Now, this follows a firing drill by U.S. stealth bombers over the Korean Peninsula. As NPR's Louisa Lim reports from Beijing, North Korea's recent threats are rattling many nerves.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARMY DRILL)

LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: Death to the U.S. imperialist - that was the chant as thousands of North Koreans rallied in central Pyongyang. Their leader, Kim Jong Un, has been calling for scores to be settled with the U.S.

KIM JONG UN: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: This is just the latest phase in a propaganda war. Pyongyang also released a video showing an invasion of Seoul. In the video, North Korean forces fly across the border to destroy American bases in South Korea. Pyongyang also canceled the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War. But experts are skeptical about threats to attack American bases in Guam, Hawaii, and the U.S. mainland.

KIM HEUNG-KYU: I do not think they are capable of launching this kind of attack against the United States.

LIM: Professor Kim Heung-kyu, from Sungshin Women's University, acted as an adviser to South Korea's last president. He says provocations are likely against South Korea, but of a different nature.

KIM HEUNG-KYU: They've already conducted a kind of a cyberwar and which really destabilized Korean network systems and causing lots of troubles. They will target military areas, or some certain scientific facilities, which will cause tremendous trouble on the side of South Korea. This is what I anticipate.

PRESIDENT PARK GEUN-HYE: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: South Korea's new president, Park Geun-hye, has continued to talk about building what she calls trustpolitik, re-establishing trust while taking a tough line with the North. Pyongyang is trying to pressure her to soften her policies, while gaining direct talks from Washington. But now, with communication links severed, the biggest danger is one of miscalculation, according to John Delury of Yonsei University in Seoul.

JOHN DELURY: Both countries are essentially on a kind of war footing. In the South, certainly there's expectations provocation could be coming soon, and, you know, there's no one on the end of the red line to answer, to clarify. The South Koreans are finger-on-the-trigger ready to do something. So, that's why it's so dangerous to have no channel whatsoever between the two countries right now.

LIM: North Korea has antagonized its traditional ally, China, with its rocket launch and third nuclear test.

JIA QINGGUO: I think this time China's position is much tougher than before.

LIM: Peking University's Jia Qingguo says Beijing was on board for stiffer U.N. sanctions on its old ally.

JIA: I think this is a turning point. North Korea has decided to pursue what it believes to be its best interests at the expense of the interest of other countries, including China. I think China has put it up for a long time, and enough is enough.

LIM: But Beijing's prime concern is still stability - and so it's unlikely to abandon Pyongyang at the moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF MILITARY CHANTING)

LIM: And so the propaganda war continues. The escalating threats, the massive rallies leave Pyongyang little place to go. One thing is clear. The new, young leader - Kim Jong Un - has learned from his father's playbook, and may yet be more unpredictable than his father before him. Louisa Lim, NPR News, Beijing.

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