North Korea’s destruction of an office established to facilitate exchanges with South Korea was as symbolic as it was dramatic. The blast that demolished the building at Kaesong, just north of the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, also blew apart the progress made in a string of summits between the South’s leader, Moon Jae-in, and his northern counterpart, Kim Jong-un. Tensions that had been eased amid hopeful signs of improved diplomatic and economic relations have returned, pacts struck over two years apparently now null and void and militaries again being put on alert. Seoul has to again rely on the diplomacy of Beijing and re-engagement of Washington if aspirations for peace and stability and a denuclearised peninsula are to be realised. A North Korean official had said last week that there would be “remorseful and painful times ahead” for South Korea. Pyongyang adopted such rhetoric towards the South and its ally, the United States, before Moon embarked on efforts to defuse tensions in 2018. A summit at which the Korean leaders embraced was followed by a landmark meeting of Kim and US President Donald Trump in Singapore. There have been more talks, but little progress; moving forward hinges on Washington bowing to the North’s demands to ease sanctions in return for a scrapping of nuclear weapons. North Korea blows up Kaesong liaison office near border with South The North’s isolationism means that its sudden change in attitude can only be guessed at. It claimed propaganda leaflets attached to balloons sent from the South to the North by defectors was to blame for its actions. But Trump has also lost interest in striking a denuclearisation deal with the North, his focus now being on winning re-election in November. The international sanctions and Covid-19 disease are thought to be having a devastating impact on the North’s economy and health of its citizens. Kim’s powerful sister, Kim Yo-jong, has also been speaking on his behalf, raising further speculation. South Korea’s unification minister has caused further uncertainty by resigning. The South has responded with forceful words. Beijing has called on Pyongyang not to escalate tensions. Decades of threats and provocations have done little for the North. It has more to gain by returning to negotiations.