A news program at the Seoul train station broadcasts a report on the resumption of communication between North and South Korea on Tuesday.
Ahn Young-joon / AP
Ahn Young-joon / AP
Ahn Young-joon / AP
SEOUL – North and South Korea reconnected hotlines in the DMZ on Tuesday, after a nearly 14-month shutdown.
Both Pyongyang and Seoul hailed the move as a step toward healing strained ties between rival states, though neither side suggested the move could lead to another round of summits or the progress of stalled nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington. .
“We hope that inter-Korean communications will never be suspended again,” Lee Jong-joo, spokesman for the South Unification Ministry in charge of inter-Korean relations, told reporters this morning, “and that we can discuss various inter-Korean issues. implement agreements through the restored channels. “
“Now the entire Korean nation wishes North-South relations to recover from setbacks and stagnation as soon as possible,” added a report by North Korea’s Central News Agency. The leaders of the two Koreas, he said, “agreed to take a great step to restore mutual trust and promote reconciliation.”
The incident shed light on how the two rival states communicate through the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ.
South Yonhap News Agency reports that there are five known hotlines between the two Koreas. They connect the leaders, armies, spy agencies and agencies in charge of inter-Korean relations of the two countries.
Normally, military and inter-Korean affairs officers check in by phone every morning and evening. All lines were cut last year except the line between intelligence agencies.
President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un decided to reestablish ties in an exchange of letters that has been ongoing since April, South Korean Presidential Office spokesman Park Soo-hyun told reporters. The exchange that reported earlier this month for the South Joongang’s Diary Newspaper.
The breakdown of ties in June 2020 was bitter, but also theatrical. The North blew up a liaison office in the northern city of Kaesong, which functioned as a de facto embassy, and accused the South of treacherously allowing defectors and dissidents to send leaflets against Pyongyang across the border to the North.
Pyongyang also conducted several ballistic missile tests, although it has postponed nuclear weapons and strategic missile tests since 2017. Recently, in March, Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, slandered Moon as a “parrot” by repeating what she said. she called the United States “”. gangster logic “.
If North Korean observers are not expressing optimism about the resumption of inter-Korean communications, it is probably because they have seen too many cycles of detente and diplomacy, followed by a stalemate and then military provocations by the North.
Lee Ho-ryung, researcher from the Korean Institute for Defense Analysis, a group of experts from the Ministry of National Defense in Seoul, has seen many such cycles, but believes this time is different.
In addition to the combination of international sanctions and chronic food shortages that North Korea is perpetually struggling with, the coronavirus pandemic has seen its borders close and domestic travel has been drastically limited due to anti-virus measures and Exodus from most of Pyongyang’s diplomats and international aid agencies.
The decision to approach Seoul, Lee says, “is based on the judgment that South Korea is the only country that North Korea can approach and still save face.”
Of course, North Korea is also aware that Moon is determined to reactivate diplomacy with North Korea, as he seeks cement his legacy during the last year of his five-year term.
Lee adds that “during the pandemic, the [North Korean] The role of the military has expanded throughout North Korean society. “Soldiers have been ordered to help fight the pandemic, cultivate fields and build houses, he says, all to keep livelihoods and society stable.” As a result, North Korea can no longer use strategic provocations for leverage in negotiations, as it did in 2016 and 2017. “
His conclusion: “Although North Korea has restored inter-Korean communication channels, I do not think there will be any major change in its basic foreign policies or inter-Korean policies.”
That implies that a resumption of stalled nuclear talks with the United States is not on the cards, at least for now. Despite repeated attempts by the Biden administration offers dialogue without preconditions, Pyongyang does not seem impressed.
“We are not even considering the possibility of any contact with the United States, much less having it, which would not get us anywhere, it would just take precious time,” Foreign Minister Ri Son Gwon said for the state media like saying last month.