New York/Seoul: North Korea will shut down a liaison office it shares with South Korea by noon Tuesday and sever other official communication including a leaders’ hotline, sending a chill in relations between the heavily armed rivals.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said it was taking the move because South Korean authorities had “connived” to carry out “hostile acts” against the country. The statement appeared to be referring to leaflets critical of leader Kim Jong Un being sent across the border by anti-Pyongyang activists in South Korea.
“This measure is the first step of the determination to completely shut down all contact means with South Korea and get rid of unnecessary things,” KCNA said, adding that North Korean officials Kim Yong Chol and Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong gave the instruction to “completely cut off all the communication and liaison lines” with the South.
The move comes as North Korea has turned a cold shoulder to President Moon Jae-in and his offers to restore economic and trade ties between the neighbors that once represented for as much as about 10% of North Korea’s economy. Those contributions have dwindled to virtually nothing since global sanctions were imposed on Kim’s regime for 2017 tests of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles in defiance of United Nations resolutions.
The latest act by North Korea comes as the two nations are about to mark the 20th anniversary of the first summit between their leaders — an event that opened hopes of reconciliation between the neighbors. North Korea also said it would shut a communication channel used by military forces on both sides.
South Korea’s government hasn’t yet officially commented on the North Korean move to cut communications. North Korea has slammed Moon for standing by the U.S. over sanctions, which are part of President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign to force Kim into giving up his nuclear weapons.
North Korea tested the patience of South Korea on Monday by delaying a regularly scheduled phone conversation at the inter-Korean liaison office, located in the border city of Kaesong, after saying it was abolishing the project that once allowed the rivals to communicate around the clock. North Korea didn’t answer the phone at the office on Tuesday morning, Yonhap News Agency of South Korea said, while the JoongAng Daily said it wasn’t answering the military line, as well.
The liaison facility was opened in the spirit of rapprochement advocated by Moon and was part of moves to reduce threats along the border, where the two countries have stationed about 1 million troops. It allowed for constant communication between the two sides for the first time since the start of the 1950-53 Korean War.
The channels were established in 2018 after Kim and Moon held summits over the course of five months between April and September that resulted in an agreement to lower tensions on their border. North Korea accused South Korea of violating the agreement by allowing the balloon launches.
“We have reached a conclusion that there is no need to sit face to face with the South Korean authorities and there is no issue to discuss with them, as they have only aroused our dismay,” KCNA said.
South Korea said last week it would look to ban anti-North Korea leaflets flying over the border by balloon after a rebuke from Kim Yo Jong. The younger Kim, who has become a key player in relations with Seoul, accused South Korea of tolerating a “sordid and wicked act of hostility.”
Millions of leaflets sent by South Korean activists and defectors from North Korea have flown across the border for more than a decade bearing messages critical of North Korea’s leaders, fueling friction between the rivals.
Leaflets that raise questions about the leader’s grip on power have tended to draw some of the sharpest rebukes from Pyongyang over the years. The latest leaflets came after Kim Jong Un has made fewer public appearances over the past several weeks than normal, leading to global speculation about his health.
Since the start of last year, North Korea has also increased the threat it poses to South Korea and the some 28,500 U.S. military personnel in the country by rolling out new lines of short-range, nuclear-capable ballistic missiles that can hit all of the country and are designed to evade U.S. interceptors.- Bloomberg
Also read: Mystery of Kim Jong Un disappearance & why ‘nuisance states’ like North Korea can’t be ignored