SEOUL—North Korea has denied sinking a South Korean navy ship, but the regime is also circulating a propaganda poster that appears to brag about the incident in which 46 people died.
The poster, photographed in late June by a visiting Chinese businessman, shows a helmeted North Korean sailor smashing a ship in two.
“We will smash you with a single blow if you attack!” it reads.
The businessman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that high-ranking North Korean traders he dealt with “expressed self-esteem in relation to North Korea’s military strength” and told him, “regardless of U.N. sanctions, we [North Koreans have] never stopped reacting.”
“It’s hard to understand how high-ranking officials can adamantly deny North Korea’s responsibility for the sinking of the Cheonan while propaganda posters showing a ship being broken in half by a fist are in circulation,” he said.
Whether the poster is new or dates from an earlier North-South naval clash, such as a 2002 confrontation in the West Sea, wasn't immediately clear. In the latter case, Pyongyang might be re-circulating an old propaganda poster to boost morale inside the country.
The authorities often send one message for foreign consumption and another for domestic audiences.
‘Just like the Cheonan’
According to one South Korean military expert, the vessel “broken in half in the poster is not a destroyer or another type of ship, but a corvette, just like the Cheonan.”
“North Korea appears to be using the imagery of the sinking of the Cheonan for propaganda aimed at inspiring its soldiers,” the analyst said.
Kim Min Chul, a pseudonym used by a North Korean defector in regular contact with North Koreans who remain in the country, said naval units on the West Coast “are told that they are the front line troops tasked to defend the revolution.”
Navy men are also asked to be ready to “destroy even enemy aircraft carriers, if issued an order to do so,” he said, adding that near-daily propaganda boasts about the sinking of the Cheonan.
Another North Korean defector who keeps in touch with relatives in North Hamgyong province cited conflicting messages.
“After the sinking of the Cheonan, word spread within the military that ‘our heroic navy has dealt a deadly blow,’ but at the same time, soldiers are told that blaming North Korea for the attack is just a South Korean ploy, so it’s hard to believe even the military, and everyone is confused."
On Thursday, the Pentagon said Washington and Seoul would soon approve a series of joint military exercises that aim to deter North Korea from any future attacks.
The naval and air exercises in the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan, likely to be finalized during high-level talks next week in Seoul, go beyond those previously announced following the March attack that killed 46 sailors.
Original reporting by Jung Young for RFA’s Korean service. Korean service director: Max Kwak. Translated from the Korean by Greg Scarlatoiu. Written in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.