North Korea ‘not responding to calls’ on missing soldier, says US
On Tuesday, Private Travis King crossed the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea.
According to a state department spokesman, North Korea has been contacted by the Pentagon. Those communications haven’t yet been answered, based on my understanding.
PV2 King’s whereabouts and fate have not been revealed by the North.
As the crisis unfolds, relations with the North are particularly tense. During the past few years, the US has tested dozens of increasingly powerful missiles that can carry nuclear warheads, which has strained relations between the two countries.
As a result of the “continuing serious risk of arrest” and the “critical threat of wrongful detention,” the US tells its citizens not to travel to North Korea, one of the world’s most isolated states.
Whether PV2 King defected or intends to return is unclear.
It may prompt North Korea to release such a low-ranking soldier – but what will happen to him remains highly uncertain, according to experts.
Due to a lack of precedent, it is difficult to predict next steps – it has been decades since a US soldier defected to the North.
In addition to the uncertainty, Pyongyang has not responded to US efforts to communicate.
It was scheduled that PV2 King would return to the US from South Korea, where he was based, in order to face disciplinary action.
When he parted ways with his military escorts on Tuesday at Incheon Airport near Seoul, the 23-year-old did not board the plane. Instead, he traveled to the border on a pre-arranged tour – what he managed to accomplish is still unclear.
The soldier “wilfully” crossed into the North over one of the world’s most heavily-defended areas, according to US officials.
Since the Korean War in the 1950s, when the US supported the South, the two countries have been separated by the DMZ. There was an armistice at the end of the war, so technically both sides are still at war. There are still tens of thousands of US troops in the South.
According to James Fretwell, an analyst at Seoul-based specialist site NK News, Pyongyang might use PV2 King to criticize the US military.
“King may appear in North Korea’s state media in the near future, depending on how long he is interrogated and how long his Covid-19 quarantine lasts,” he said. The North Korean government is still maintaining a strict border lockdown in response to the pandemic.
Mr King, however, does not make for a very ideal or compelling soldier story, according to Jenny Town at the Stimson Center’s 38 North Program.