Telephone hotline to be reopened . . .
On Tuesday, the office of South Korean President Moon Jae-in announced that he and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un have reached an agreement to “restore mutual confidence and develop their relationships again as soon as possible.” Since April, the two leaders have exchanged several letters to re-establish cross-border engagement. Both leaders appear to be looking to recover some sense of mutual trust and promote reconciliation by restoring the telephone hotline between the two Koreas. Some experts have suggested that the economic challenges facing North Korea, exacerbated by the North’s tightened border with China due to COVID-19, could be a factor in propelling Kim to re-establish contact not only with Seoul but also perhaps with Washington.
Why communication line was severed . . .
While North Korea and South Korea had been improving ties in 2019, the relationship deteriorated following the second summit between former U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. Tensions rose after North Korean defector groups in South Korea began sending propaganda leaflets via helium-filled balloons over the border criticizing North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and human rights record. Defectors also sent USB sticks containing world news and U.S. dollars, exposing North Korean citizens to censored materials. In response, North Korea blew up a liaison office in June 2020 intended to improve communications with South Korea. In December of 2020, the South Korean parliament passed a law criminalizing flying leaflets, USB drives, or money into North Korea.
Kim moves to limit South Korea’s cultural influence . . .
The restoration of the communication channel follows North Korea's recent warnings to its citizens to refrain from adopting South Korean fashion, music, hairstyles, and slang. In recent years, South Korean pop culture has gained prominence in the North due to Pyongyang’s somewhat softened restrictions on foreign materials. As President Moon finishes the final year of his single presidential term, the re-activated communication channel gives him another shot at laying the groundwork for his campaign pledge of improving relations with North Korea.
- CTV News: Why North Korea is so afraid of K-pop
- The Guardian: North Korea says propaganda leaflets sent from South could carry coronavirus
- The Washington Post: North and South Korea agree to talk again, restore cross-border hotline