The North’s leadership says it will now treat the South as an “enemy,” the latest sign of chilling relations between the two Koreas.
<The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, during a Politburo meeting on Sunday. Credit, AP>
North Korea said on Tuesday that it would cut off all communication lines with South Korea, including military hotlines, as it vowed to reverse a recent détente on the Korean Peninsula and start treating the South as an “enemy.”
North Korea made the decision when its top officials in charge of relations with the South, including Kim Yo-jong, the sister of the supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, met on Monday, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said.
The officials “stressed that the work toward the South should thoroughly turn into one against the enemy,” the North Korean news agency reported on Tuesday. “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.”
Shortly after its announcement, North Korea refused to pick up the phone on Tuesday morning when the South made its routine daily call on the military hotlines between the two countries, officials in Seoul said.
The North’s tone on Tuesday was a sharp reversal from two years ago, when a rare inter-Korean rapprochement culminated in South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, visiting Pyongyang, becoming the first South Korean leader to address a large North Korean crowd.
Inter-Korean relations have rapidly deteriorated since Kim Jong-un’s second summit meeting with President Trump, held in Vietnam in February of last year, ended without agreement on dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons program or easing United Nations sanctions on the country. North Korea’s economic isolation has subsequently deepened with the global coronavirus outbreak.
Since Mr. Kim’s diplomacy with Mr. Trump collapsed, North Korea has stepped up pressure on the South to ignore Washington’s pressure and improve inter-Korean economic ties even before the North denuclearized. It demanded the reopening of the joint tourism venture at its Diamond Mountain resort complex and of a joint industrial park in Kaesong, both of which had served as key sources of cash until they were shut down in disputes between the two Koreas.
When the South refused to restart the ventures, calling on the North to first move toward denuclearization, North Korea turned increasingly harsh toward Mr. Moon’s government.
<Kim Jong-un and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea meeting in the Demilitarized Zone in 2018. Credit, Korea Summit Press Pool>
Last Thursday, Ms. Kim, a senior adviser to her brother, warned that North Korea would begin scrapping inter-Korean agreements to ease tensions unless South Korea stopped the release of anti-Kim leaflets by defectors from the North.
When Mr. Kim and Mr. Moon met in April of 2018 and again in September that year, they signed agreements to improve relations and cease all hostile acts along the border, including cross-border propaganda, like leaflets and loudspeaker broadcasts. As part of such efforts, the two Koreas also installed a hotline linking the offices of Mr. Kim and Mr. Moon and set up a liaison office in Kaesong, just north of the border in North Korea.
But anti-North activists in the South, mainly defectors from the North, have continued to send leaflets by balloon. North Korea has long bristled at these leaflets, which typically depict Mr. Kim as a cretinous dictator toying with nuclear weapons.
On Tuesday, North Korea said that it had decided to “cut off all the communication and liaison lines” between the two Koreas, including the hotlines between their leaders’ offices and their militaries. The North said its move was only the start of what it called “phased plans for the work against the enemy.”
South Korea has long emphasized the importance of those hotlines to avert unintended armed clashes between the two militaries at times of rising tensions on the peninsula.
The two Koreas have run a telephone hotline at the so-called truce village of Panmunjom and later at the inter-Korean liaison office. Duty officers from both sides man their telephones. But when bilateral relations soured in the past, one of the first things North Korea often did was to cut off the line — only to reopen it later.
South Korea has criticized the North Korean defectors for raising tensions by releasing the leaflets. Last week, it said it was discussing a new law to ban such leaflets.
In recent days, when defectors approached the border zone to release plastic bottles filled with rice afloat on a river, hoping that they will reach North Koreans, angry South Korean villagers blocked the roads. They accused the defectors of raising tensions and polluting the river.