Why the cold shoulder? N Korea goes incommunicado with S Korea.

North Korea cut off all communication channels with its neighbor on Tuesday. It's a tactic used by Kim Jong Un's government to escalate pressure on South Korea for its failure to persuade the United States to ease sanctions, experts say. 

Lee Jin-man/AP
A map of two Koreas showing the Demilitarized Zone with North Korea's capital Pyongyang and South Korea's capital Seoul is seen at the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, South Korea, June 9, 2020. Citing "leafleting," North Korea has cut off all communication with the South.

North Korea said it was cutting off all communication channels with South Korea on Tuesday, a move experts say could signal Pyongyang has grown frustrated that Seoul has failed to revive lucrative inter-Korean economic projects and persuade the United States to ease sanctions.

The North's Korean Central News Agency said all cross-border communication lines would be cut off at noon in "the first step of the determination to completely shut down all contact means with South Korea and get rid of unnecessary things."

When South Korean officials tried to contact their North Korean counterparts via several channels after the North's announcement on Tuesday, the North Koreans didn't answer, according to the South Korean government.

North Korea has cut communications in the past – not replying to South Korean phone calls or faxes – and then restored those channels when tensions eased. North Korea has been accused at times of deliberately creating tensions to bolster internal unity or to signal its frustration over a lack of progress in nuclear talks with Washington.

In its announcement, North Korea said Tuesday's move was a response to South Korea's failure to stop activists from floating anti-Pyongyang leaflets across their border.

"The South Korean authorities connived at the hostile acts against [North Korea] by the riff-raff, while trying to dodge heavy responsibility with nasty excuses," KCNA said.

South Korea's liberal government, which seeks improved relations with North Korea, said that cross-border hotlines must be maintained as they are the basic means of communication between the two Koreas. The Unification Ministry said South Korea will strive to promote peace while abiding by inter-Korean agreements.

For years, conservative South Korean activists, including North Korean defectors living in the South, have floated huge balloons into North Korea carrying leaflets criticizing leader Kim Jong Un over his nuclear ambitions and human rights record. The leafleting has sometimes triggered a furious response from North Korea, which bristles at any attempt to undermine its leadership.

South Korea has typically let activists launch such balloons, citing their rights to freedom of speech, but has halted some attempts when North Korean warnings appeared to be serious. In 2014, North Korean troops opened fire at propaganda balloons flying toward their territory, triggering an exchange of fire that caused no known causalities.

North Korea began taking issue with the leafleting again last week.

Mr. Kim's sister Kim Yo Jong called defectors involved in recent leafleting "human scum" and "mongrel dogs," and she threatened to permanently shut down a liaison office and a jointly run factory park, both in the North, as well as nullify a 2018 inter-Korean military agreement that had aimed to reduce tensions.

North Korea's latest moves will further set back South Korean President Moon Jae-in's push for inter-Korean reconciliation.

"The North Koreans have been trying to find something they can use to express their dissatisfaction and distrust against South Korea. And they've now got the leaftleting issue, so I don't think we can simply resolve [tensions] even if we address issues related to the leafleting," said Kim Dong-yub, an analyst from Seoul's Institute for Far Eastern Studies.

He said the North Korean statement also appeared aimed at strengthening internal unity and signaling the North's resolve not to make concessions in nuclear talks.

Mr. Moon, who met Kim Jong Un three times in 2018, facilitated a flurry of high-profile meetings between Pyongyang and Washington, including the first summit between Mr. Kim and President Donald Trump in June 2018.

But North Korea has increasingly turned the cold shoulder to Mr. Moon and suspended virtually all inter-Korean cooperation since a second Kim-Trump summit in early 2019 fell apart due to disputes over U.S.-led sanctions.

North Korea has urged Mr. Moon's government not to meddle in its diplomacy with Mr. Trump and slammed Seoul for failing to break away from Washington and revive joint economic projects held up by the sanctions.

Critics of Mr. Moon's engagement policy say North Korea had initially expected Mr. Moon to help it win sanctions relief but eventually got angry with him after Mr. Kim returned from the second Trump summit empty handed.

How far Mr. Kim is willing to go in stoking tensions is unclear. Some experts say he could take additional steps targeting South Korea, such as shutting down the liaison office or short-range weapons tests. However, they say Mr. Kim may be reluctant to do something like stage a nuclear or missile test due to concerns it could completely scuttle diplomacy with Washington.

Some see Tuesday's move as a sign that North Korea is feeling the pinch financially and that its already battered economy perhaps deteriorated further when the coronavirus pandemic forced it to shut its border with China, the North's biggest trading partner.

North Korea said the decision to sever communications was made by Mr. Kim's sister and former hard-line military intelligence chief Kim Yong Chol. Some experts say this shows the elevated political standing of Mr. Kim's sister.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

Editor’s note: As a public service, the Monitor has removed the paywall for all our coronavirus coverage. It’s free.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Why the cold shoulder? N Korea goes incommunicado with S Korea.
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today