Balloon Fight Between North Korea and South Korea?

North Korea has long been enraged by groups in South Korea sending balloons over the border, carrying items that are often considered illegal in North Korea. Now they have found a way to retaliate which doesn’t involve rockets, but more balloons.

Smuggling items into North Korea can be done in two ways. The most efficient way is through the China-North Korean border, where items can be physically carried by people involved in cross-border trade. The drawback is that this is dangerous for the people carrying the items, expensive for the people sending the items, and when the border closes, as it did for years during the pandemic, this option becomes a lot less viable.

The other way of carrying items into North Korea is from South Korea, but these items cannot be physically carried. They have to be sent by water or air. Most often this is done by sending up balloons near the border when the wind comes from the South and can carry the items over the four-kilometre-wide DMZ.

There are different organisations sending up balloons and they have different aims. Some are very political, sending leaflets denouncing the North Korean regime and encouraging the population to overthrow it. They will also include USB sticks with South Korean dramas and music, as proof of South Korean prosperity and development. These items are illegal in North Korea and can land people in jail or worse. The protests of the Kim regime against balloons have focussed primarily on this type of political activity.

There are also humanitarian balloons, sending cash and medicine, to help the North Korean population and show them the South Koreans are not hostile to them as the regime would have them believe. The latter are often sent by Christians, who also send balloons with other highly illegal items, such as Bibles on USB sticks, evangelistic leaflets and radios which are set to receive Christian broadcasts from the South. Their aim is usually not an overthrow of the regime, but for the North Korean people to hear the gospel, the nation to be transformed and ultimately to have a peaceful reunification with South Korea.

The sending of balloons remains controversial. It has caused a lot of friction between the nations, leading at times to dangerous escalations. For that reason, many in the South Korean government oppose activist groups sending up balloons.

When it comes to evangelistic balloons, there are also questions from the Christian community. Sending balloons is generally not very precise. They can land anywhere, including in trees, rivers, the sea, or on remote mountains. Much or most of what is sent will be lost and may cause pollution rather than blessing. Also, the recipients have not asked for it. They can pick up items unknowingly which could get them into much trouble. This is the reason why Back to Jerusalem does not distribute Bibles in this way. We want people who get Bibles to know what they get and be aware of the risks.

North Korea doesn’t want any political leaflets, South Korean entertainment, or religious items to come into their country and is now telling South Korea what they think of it in a new way. They are also sending up balloons, and they are carrying bags of trash. “If you send us trash, we will send you trash.” More than 150 have been found in South Korea so far, spreading garbage around the Northern provinces.

From a North Korean regime viewpoint, it is understandable they want to stop unwanted items being dropped from the sky. No country would like that. However, they could also stop and wonder why they are the only country in the world where there is so little freedom for people that this extreme method is being used to get information in. And why they are so scared of North Koreans knowing what their fellow Koreans south of the border are free to learn and think about.

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