North Korea restores hotline a year after blowing up liaison office

Receive free North Korea nuclear tensions updates We’ll send you a myFT Daily Digest email rounding up the latest North Korea nuclear tensions news every morning. North Korea restored its communication lines with South Korea on Monday following a period of intensive missile testing and megaphone diplomacy. South Korea’s unification […]

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North Korea restored its communication lines with South Korea on Monday following a period of intensive missile testing and megaphone diplomacy.

South Korea’s unification ministry confirmed on Monday that North Korea had answered a call made at 9am, adding that the resumption of contact “lays the foundation for stabilising the situation on the Korean peninsula and restoring inter-Korean relations”.

Kim Jong Un, the North Korean dictator, told the Supreme People’s Assembly last week of Pyongyang’s intention to restore the inter-Korean hotlines, which were last severed in August ahead of joint military exercises by South Korea and the US.

Kim was reported by North Korean media as declaring that re-establishing contact formed “part of the efforts to realise the expectation and desire of the whole nation who wants the present tough inter-Korean relations to be rehabilitated as soon as possible and wants lasting peace to be settled on the Korean peninsula”.

“We have no purpose or reason to provoke South Korea, or any idea of hurting it,” said Kim, according to the North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun. “South Korea should quickly get out of the wild dream that it must deter North Korea’s provocations and of its serious crisis consciousness and victim mentality.”

Apart from a brief period this summer, the hotlines have not operated for more than a year after North Korea blew up the inter-Korean liaison office near the country’s border with South Korea. They destroyed the office in June 2020 ostensibly in retaliation for efforts by defector and human rights groups to send anti-Kim materials into the sealed-off country.

A series of missile tests conducted by North and South Korea throughout September, and Seoul’s efforts to rally international support for the loosening of sanctions imposed on Pyongyang, exposed differences in approach between the US and the pro-engagement administration of Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president.

North Korea has tested train-launched ballistic, long-range cruise, hypersonic and anti-aircraft missile systems in recent weeks. At the same time, Kim Yo Jong, the dictator’s sister who was elevated to the country’s powerful State Affairs Commission last week, castigated Seoul and Washington for their “hostile policy” towards the North.

Unlike the US, South Korea, which tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile last month, has refrained from describing the North’s missile tests as “provocations”. Instead, it has called for the resumption of dialogue and for the international community to consider sanctions relief.

Analysts argued that Kim was probably testing Seoul’s appetite for further accommodation, while examining the willingness of the Biden administration, which opposes sanctions relief, for greater diplomatic engagement.

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