Why It Matters

Truce, until the next tantrum

A conflict was averted in the Korean peninsula when Seoul and Pyongyang struck a deal on Tuesday to ease military tensions and improve relations.

But this truce can last only until the next tantrum by the North's recalcitrant leader Kim Jong Un, and the bigger question of whether the two Koreas can be united - a key objective of the Park Geun Hye administration - remains up in the air.

Since both sides are technically still at war, South Korea must continue to stand strong against any provocations from the North, which has a history of breaking promises. The next show of force might well be in October, when North Korea marks the 70th anniversary of its ruling Workers' Party.

But South Korea will now know how best to retaliate - by blasting loudspeaker propaganda. This seemingly old-school method of psychological warfare worked surprisingly well, driving an incensed Mr Kim to declare a "semi-war" state.

Did he overreact? Perhaps.

But given his reaction, the world now knows just how sore he gets about exposing his people to inflammatory messages about him. The loudspeakers are "mightier than the sword", noted the Korea Herald daily, adding that the broadcast criticised Mr Kim as a "childish, insecure despot" and urged listeners to "wake up and not to waste their beautiful youth as a slave of the dictatorship".

The broadcast played songs by K-pop groups Girls Generation and Big Bang, and trumpeted South Korea's economic success, democracy and freedom.

Such truths about South Korea and the outside world are what the North Korean leadership "is very afraid of", said Dr Kongdan Oh of the Institute for Defence Analyses. So, how long will Mr Kim be able to keep his people isolated from the outside world?

If truth hits home and people start rebelling against the regime and pushing for change, that will probably be Mr Kim's biggest nightmare come true. But it will be music to South Korean ears.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 27, 2015, with the headline 'Truce, until the next tantrum'. Print Edition | Subscribe