PICTURED: President Moon Jae-in and DPRK Leader Kim Jong Un meet to shake hands across the border in the inter-Korean summit in 2018. PC: Inter-Korean Summit Press Corps.
Story at a glance…
North-South Korea have resumed phone communication after a year.
During especially hard times for North Korea, Kim might be looking to try diplomacy after efforts in 2018 were foiled by the Americans.
While Moon and Biden reportedly retain their ideals of complete denuclearization, they are both willing to speak to Pyongyang under any circumstance.
In a surprise gesture, North Korean state media have announced that all cross-border communications with the south have been reopened as of Tuesday at 1:00 AM (GMT), news reciprocated by South Korea’s Presidential Blue House.
Dialogue of any sort was shut off last year after South Korea had reportedly failed to stop anti-DPRK propaganda leaflets from being thrown across the border. NK News, based in Seoul report that 48 telephone lines connect the north from the south, 9 of which are reserved for the militaries.
Al Jazeera quotes DPRK-state media organization KCNA as hoping for “positive effects” from the decision, which it said represented “a big stride in recovering the mutual trust and promoting reconciliation”.
While any south-to-north calls were left to go to voice mail, and the DPRK military blew up the official inter-Korean liaison office, the two leaders Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un apparently still exchanged letters, mostly to offer condolences for COVID-19 and natural disasters respectively.
“We hope that the restoration of the inter-Korean communication line will improve and develop inter-Korean relations,” the Blue House was quoted as saying. However in a speech marking his last year in office, President Moon announced he still wanted “to achieve the primary goal of the Korean Peninsula’s complete denuclearization,” which carries some baggage.
Game of phones
The economic situation in the DPRK is not good. Food shortages are the norm, and decades of economic warfare measures imposed on the watch of most modern U.S. presidents have never allowed the average North Korean person to live very far above the poverty line.
In January at a party conference, Kim admitted the 5-year plan had failed in almost every way, and amid chronic power and food shortages, floods and the pandemic, he described the food situation as “tense” last month.
Moon has relentlessly pursued the goal of North-South reconciliation, and better relations in any possible way with Pyongyang. It was his good work which brokered the first face to face talks between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader since the Korean War.
An examination of analyses from various thinktanks and media outlets done by WaL didn’t find much opinion the nuclear question, as the restoration of contact is likely the result of persistence in the face of habit.
Biden has said his administration will continue seeking complete denuclearization of the peninsula through diplomacy, but “will not engineer some grand bargain”.
Kim agreed to meet with Trump, who wanted to improve relations between the two countries, but was reportedly dismayed by the former-President’s National Sec. Advisor John Bolton who repositioned the discussion, by some accounts against the president’s wishes, towards complete denuclearization along “the Libyan Model”. So the talks were immediately terminated.
Moon has sought peace for peace’s sake. Whether his intention is truly humanitarian or if he’s seeking some kind of reward from Washington, only he knows, but he’s supported better relations in any form at every opportunity.
Al Jazeera reports that Sung Kim, the U.S. diplomat overseeing North Korea negotiations, said in June that Washington was ready to meet officials from Pyongyang “anywhere, anytime, without preconditions,” which may have perked Kim’s ears up even though Pyongyang officially declined the invitation. Analysts from the Rand Corp. and the Univ. of North Korean Studies said that perhaps Kim is looking to use Moon’s eagerness for reconciliation to get some sanctions relief during the food shortages.
Both Washington and Pyongyang are enslaved in the current parity. Demanding anything less than complete denuclearization has happened only once in major U.S./DPRK talks, and the result was that the largest media companies, thinktanks of all varieties, and most political figures denounced the talks.
Obviously any strategic or diplomatic maneuvering that Kim might try has to be couched in a hundred layers of the DPRK statism, which is doubly tricky because Kim and his underlings understand that every regime Washington has bullied or cooed into relinquishing its nuclear or chemical weapons has been subsequently destroyed and their country ripped to pieces by civil war. Therefore they must ensure their weapons survive while also trying something to ease the pain of constant shortages, leaving few options without significant help from the South.