After more than a year without an official communication channel, the governments of North and South Korea are getting closer again. Connections are being restored, it was said. In addition, the heads of state of both sides have apparently been in written contact for months.
South and North Korea have restored their direct communication channels after months of disruption. The two countries made the announcement Tuesday, the 68th anniversary of the signing of the armistice treaty ending the Korean War.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has exchanged personal letters with North Korean strongman Kim Jong-un since April, according to his office. He said they also agreed to restore communication links. The move will help improve bilateral relations, he said.
Moon and Kim already spoke on the phone Tuesday, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said. The Defense Ministry said military hotlines between the two sides were also fully operational again.
North Korea had unilaterally cut all communication channels between the governments and militaries of the two countries last June. The communist government in Pyongyang did so in response to propaganda actions by conservative South Korean activists and North Korean refugees at the border directed against the leadership in North Korea. Seoul was accused of doing nothing to counter the actions.
The hotline between the presidential office in Seoul and the office of the North Korean ruler was also affected by North Korea’s action. Later, North Korea also blew up an inter-Korean liaison office in the border city of Kaesong.
All Koreans wanted bilateral relations to recover from the setbacks “as early as possible,” North Korean state media said Tuesday. Top leaders agreed to restore mutual trust and promote reconciliation by “restoring the severed inter-Korean communication lines,” it said.
North Korea is internationally isolated because of its nuclear weapons program. As a result of the failed summit between Kim Jong-un with former U.S. President Donald Trump in Vietnam in February 2019, inter-Korean relations also failed to move forward. Trump and Kim were unable to agree on a roadmap for disarming North Korea’s nuclear program, as well as U.S. reciprocity.
Signal to Biden?
Experts also interpret the unexpected rapprochement as a signal from Pyongyang to the new U.S. administration of President Joe Biden. Both North Korea and the U.S. government had adopted a wait-and-see approach to mutual dealings since Biden took office. In June, Kim had said North Korea must be prepared for both “dialogue and confrontation” with regard to the Biden-led United States.
The White House, meanwhile, said it would take a “pragmatic approach” to North Korea policy to achieve nuclear disarmament in the isolated country. U.S. special envoy to North Korea Sung Kim said in June that Washington was ready to meet with Pyongyang’s leadership “at any time” and “without preconditions” – an offer Kim’s influential sister Kim Yo-jong promptly rejected.
North Korea expert Yang Moo-jin assessed the latest rapprochement between Seoul and Pyongyang as a sign that North Korea’s ruler considers the resumption of contacts with Seoul “beneficial in terms of domestic and foreign policy.” South Korean President Moon has always insisted on the recovery of inter-Korean relations despite the stalemate in negotiations with North Korea, he said. The willingness to resume contact with South Korea “should be understood as Kim Jong-un’s first response to Seoul and Washington,” Yang said.