North Korea sending trash balloons to South Korea ‘soft terrorism’, says US think tank

North Korea’s campaign of sending hundreds of trash-filled balloons into South Korea is a “form of soft terrorism” which shouldn’t be taken lightly, an American think tank has said.

Pyongyang sent seven waves of balloons between 28 May to 26 June, marking the return of “psychological warfare” that was employed by the US, South Korea and North Korea during the Korean War in the 1950s, the Center for Strategic and International Studies said in a report released by its Korea chair Victor Cha and associate fellow Andy Lim.

The balloons were filled with animal and human faeces, batteries, cigarette butts, clothes, dark soil, plastic bottles, toilet paper, wastepaper, and vinyl, prompting South Korea to advise people against going outside.

The North has defended the campaign as a “strictly responsive act” after the South flew balloons carrying propaganda leaflets the other way.

The think tank argued that the North’s balloon campaign is the latest manifestation of its “decoupling” policy from South Korea.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un announced in January that he will no longer seek reconciliation and reunification with South Korea and labelled their relationship as “belligerent” and “hostile”.

“The Kim regime is extremely angry with both the conservative and liberal political parties in South Korea,” the report said.

The North’s balloon launches are a direct response to the South Korean government under president Yoon Suk Yeol permitting its people to resume sending balloons to the neighbouring country, it said.

“However, while these balloons reflect North Korean weakness and insecurity, they should not be taken lightly,” it said. “The trash-filled balloons and the damage they do is a form of soft terrorism.”

The report mulled a hypothetical scenario where North Korea could escalate their psychological warfare by sending an unidentified white powder on the balloons. “It would create panic in South Korea among the public and impact the foreign capital in the country’s economy,” it said.

The report also warned of escalation as Mr Kim’s sister Kim Yo-jong has threatened to destroy the South Korean loudspeakers, installed near the border to broadcast propaganda to the North, with military fire.

“This would amount to dangerous escalation alongside the recent GPS signal jamming, encroachments into the demilitarised zone and missile demonstrations,” it said.