North Korea has called South Korea a “puppet traitor” after it appears they may have severed a communication channel between the two nations. For several days, the North has failed to respond to routine calls through an inter-Korean liaison telecommunications channel. Normally, the calls are to be held weekdays at 9AM and again at 5PM.
Koo Byoung-sam, a spokesman for the South Korean Ministry of Unification, stated during a briefing that “North Korea did not respond to our call through the military communications channels over the weekend. As both channels at the South-North Joint Liaison Office and the military have not been answered until this morning, it is highly likely that the North unilaterally cut off the communication lines.”
This breakdown of communications is not uncommon, as the two countries have seen a consistent cycle of abolishing and restoring communications in recent years. Typically, North Korea breaks communications in response to South Korea’s actions, usually involving military exercises or political rhetoric. The current break in communication appears to be another part of North Korea’s response to the joint aerial exercise on April 5, which saw South Korean fighter jets drilling with United States nuclear-capable B-52 bombers. North Korea also conducted tests with the unmanned, nuclear Haeil-2 last week, which seems to have been the initial response to the aerial exercise.
The two Koreas established the Inter-Korean Liaison Office in 2018 following the historic Panmunjom Declaration to facilitate communications between the adversaries. The declaration stated that the two countries would work towards officially ending the Korean War, as a peace treaty was never officially signed, with hostility still high and tensions common. It also served as a starting point for an era of reconciliation, peace, and potential unification between the two countries. With that, a building located in Kaesong was renovated and used as the headquarters of the office. It housed North and South Korean liaisons and their delegations. Typically, the two groups facilitated and maintained communications through the office, which allowed the liaisons to discuss potential joint Korean projects. However, the hope that both countries had begun to prepare for the future would not last long.
The outbreak of COVID-19 throughout the Korean Peninsula caused the building to vacate. At the time, communications were still ongoing through telecommunications lines. However, the North Korean army was ordered to destroy the building in June of 2020. Communications were also cut off until telecommunications resumed in July 2021. The building’s destruction was ordered in response to North Korean defectors living in South Korea who used balloons to spread anti-North Korean pamphlets across the country.
This break in communications is likely just another part of this ongoing cycle. As for now, South Korea will continue to check in daily, as they’ve done in the past, until connections are reestablished. Unfortunately, it appears communications may be severed for some time, as South Korea cannot help but rely on the United States as its major military ally.