The British government has called on North Korea to end its bellicose rhetoric after Kim Jong-un released a statement on Saturday via the country’s official news agency declaring that a “state of war” existed between the North and South of the peninsula.
"We have noted today's statement from North Korea,” said a spokesman for the Foreign Office, adding: "We have made clear to North Korea that its long-term interests will only be served by constructive engagement with the international community. These threatening statements will only seek to isolate it further. The armistice agreement has enabled the Korean peninsula to benefit from 60 years' peace. Maintaining it is in the best interests of all."
The declaration of war is the latest in what have become almost daily pronouncements from Pyongyang, which in recent weeks has threatened to launch attacks on Seoul, American bases in Guam, Hawaii and Japan, and even on the US mainland, though experts agree that the hermetic state is unlikely to have military capabilities beyond attacking its near neighbour.
The North's latest raft of inflammatory language follows a tightening of UN sanctions, imposed after the illegal testing of a nuclear bomb in February. In recent weeks, the US and South Korea have carried out their annual joint manoeuvres, which this year included the flying of B2 bombers over the South, test runs for an attack on the North.
Saturday’s statement from Pyongyang said that "from this time on, the North-South relations will be entering the state of war and all issues raised between the North and the South will be handled accordingly", adding that “military provocations "will not be limited to a local war, but develop into an all-out war, a nuclear war".
So far the Kaesong industrial park, in which workers from the North are allowed to be employed by companies from the South, has not been closed, however the KCNA news agency said it may be shut should the North’s "dignity" continue to be insulted.
Many commentators believe the current escalation is simply an attempt by the North’s fledgling leader to draw the US back to the negotiating table, with the hope of procuring additional aid from Washington, as well as scoring a propaganda victory at home.
In response to Saturday’s declaration, Kim Min-seok, a South Korean defence ministry spokesman, said: "The series of North Korean threats - announcing all-out war, scrapping the ceasefire agreement and the non-aggression agreement between the South and the North, cutting the military hotline, entering into combat posture No 1 and entering a 'state of war' - are unacceptable and harm the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula.
"We are maintaining full military readiness in order to protect our people's lives and security."