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Activists in Seoul Create ‘Smart Balloons’ to Deliver Messages into North Korea

ByYasmeeta Oon

Jun 12, 2024
Activists in Seoul Create 'Smart Balloons' to Deliver Messages into North Korea

Activists in Seoul Create ‘Smart Balloons’ to Deliver Messages into North Korea

In the shadowy conflict between North and South Korea, an innovative form of protest has emerged from a Seoul-based activist group. Harnessing advanced technology, this group crafts “smart balloons” designed to carry messages and even electronic speakers deep into North Korean territory, including the capital, Pyongyang.

The group, self-titled “The Committee for Reform and Opening up of Joson” (Joson being another term for North Korea), has perfected the design of these balloons using 3D printers and materials sourced from the internet. Some balloons are even equipped with GPS tracking to monitor their journey across the border. Each balloon can cost upwards of US$1,000, a testament to the sophistication and capabilities of these aerial messengers.

Typically, the balloons are launched from spring to autumn, taking advantage of the northward-blowing winds. The operations are often carried out under the cover of darkness to avoid detection and maximize the potential of reaching deeper into North Korean territory. Remarkably, some of these balloons have made it as far as China.

The balloons are not just technical marvels but also a strategic tool in the ongoing psychological warfare between the two nations. They are constructed in a modest apartment in Seoul, where the group’s members assemble the essential components:

  • 3D printed chassis: White plastic boxes and connective parts form the body of the balloon.
  • Electronic components: Circuit boards, timers, and wires purchased from Chinese and South Korean e-commerce sites control the dispersal of the balloons’ contents.
  • Payload capabilities: Each balloon can carry up to 7.5 kilograms of materials, programmed to scatter leaflets and other items strategically during flight.

The contents of these balloons are varied but pointedly critical of the North Korean regime:

  • Leaflets: Typically, each balloon carries around 1,500 leaflets, releasing them in batches to ensure widespread distribution.
  • Speakers: Some balloons carry speakers that broadcast messages critical of Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s leader. These messages are interspersed with North Korean songs, recorded in a North Korean accent to resonate more with the listeners across the border.

Smart Balloon Specifications

Material3D printed plastic, electronics from e-commerce
Launch FrequencyMonthly from spring to autumn
NavigationGPS-equipped for tracking
Cost per BalloonUS$1,000 (RM4,722)
Maximum Payload7.5 kg
Payload ContentsLeaflets (1,500 per balloon), electronic speakers, short-wave radios, bibles
Special EquipmentAltimeter-linked valves for altitude control, waterproof speaker boxes, lithium-ion batteries

The impact of these balloon flights on North-South relations cannot be overstated:

  • North Korea’s Response: Pyongyang has expressed significant displeasure, seeing the balloons as provocative. In retaliation, they have escalated their own balloon launches, often filling these with garbage or even animal feces.
  • South Korea’s Stance: The South Korean government, while officially ceasing its own balloon launches years ago, respects the constitutional right to free speech, affirmed by a court ruling that struck down a previous ban on such activities.

The flights have not been without controversy within South Korea itself. Some residents argue that these activities are not only provocative but also endanger civilians living near the border. Despite these concerns, South Korean marines stationed near the launch sites have been instructed not to interfere with the launches, which are considered a right of free speech.

The use of smart balloons by South Korean activists highlights the ongoing tensions and the innovative methods being used in the psychological warfare between North and South Korea. While the effectiveness of these messages remains debatable, the commitment of the activists to their cause is clear, as they continue to develop and deploy these technological messengers in the hopes of reaching the hearts and minds of North Korean citizens.

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Featured Image courtesy of DALL-E by ChatGPT

Yasmeeta Oon

Just a girl trying to break into the world of journalism, constantly on the hunt for the next big story to share.

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