An enraged North Korea responded to new UN sanctions with fresh threats of nuclear war yesterday, vowing to scrap peace pacts with South Korea as it upped the ante yet again after its recent atomic test.
The North Korean statement came hours after the UN Security Council beefed up existing sanctions on the communist state in response to its February 12 nuclear test.
The resolution adopted by the 15-member council tightened restrictions on North Korea's financial dealings, notably its suspect "bulk cash" transfers.
Pyongyang is renowned for its bellicose rhetoric, but the tone has reached a frenzied pitch in recent days, fuelling concerns of a border clash with both North and South planning major military exercises next week.
It has even threatened a "pre-emptive nuclear attack" against the US and South Korea - a notion dismissed as bluster by analysts, but not without dangerous, underlying intent.
North Korea "abrogates all agreements on non-aggression reached between the North and the South", the state-run Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK) said yesterday. The CPRK said the pacts would be voided as of Monday, the same day that Pyongyang has vowed to rip up the 1953 armistice agreement that ended Korean war hostilities.
It also announced the immediate severing of a North-South hotline installed in 1971.
State television, meanwhile, showed North Korean leader Kim Jong-un preparing for "all-out war" as he visited a frontline military unit involved in the shelling of a South Korean island in 2010.
South Korea's new president, Park Geun-hye, who was sworn in less than two weeks ago, said the situation had become "very grave", but vowed to "deal strongly" with any provocation from the North.
The new sanctions would "bite hard", said the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice. "They increase North Korea's isolation and raise the cost to North Korea's leaders of defying the international community."
China wants "full implementation" of the resolution, said its UN envoy Li Baodong , while stressing that efforts must be made to bring North Korea back to negotiations.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying urged "relevant parties to exercise calm and restraint, and avoid actions that might further escalate tensions", describing the situation as "highly complex and sensitive".
Even though North Korea is not deemed capable of any nuclear strike on the US mainland, there are growing fears that it will mount some provocation in the form of a missile test or a similar artillery assault.
In such a volatile atmosphere, "there's always that risk of a miscalculation and rapid escalation", warned Dan Pinkston, a Seoul-based security expert for the International Crisis Group.
"Most of this is bluster, but the regime in North Korea is also signalling that it's willing to take greater risks, and that's a dangerous sign," Pinkston said.