Koreas’ navies exchange fire as analysts pooh-pooh Kim rumours

North and South Korean naval patrol boats briefly exchanged fire on Tuesday near their disputed Yellow Sea border which has been the site of numerous clashes in the past, the South’s defence ministry said. The incident came as hopes had been raised of a constructive reboot in strained inter-Korean relations following the surprise visit of a top-ranking North Korean delegation to the South just three days before. The defence ministry said the South’s patrol boat had initially fired a warning shot after the North Korean vessel penetrated half a nautical mile inside the South’s territorial waters. Instead of retreating immediately, the North patrol boat opened fire. Although the incident went beyond warning shots, the spokesman indicated that neither side had made a concerted effort to hit the other.

[The North Korean vessel opened fire] so our side fired back.

A South Korean ministry spokesman

Meanwhile, U.S. analysts say the surprise visit by a senior North Korea delegation to South Korea and the disappearance from public view of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for the past month could just be diplomatic tactics by Pyongyang, aimed at dividing and weakening international pressure over its nuclear weapons program and human rights record as well as propaganda for domestic consumption. North Korean officials have denied that Kim’s public absence since Sept. 3 is health-related and a U.S. official following North Korea said there were no indications he was seriously ill or in political trouble.

There’s no sign that something big is going on.

A senior Washington diplomat, who declined to be named