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South Korea Keeps Calling North Korea on a Special Hotline (No One Picks Up)

Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump
President Trump Meets with Chairman Kim Jong Un

According to an official from South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, South Korea has made daily calls to North Korea for the past year using a hotline set up at the Joint Security Area (JSA) within the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), but have not yet received an answer. The line does appear to remain active, according to the official, with a dial tone still able to be heard.

North Korea announced last summer that it would be severing all such hotlines with South Korea as a first step towards cutting off all lines of contact with the South in response to the launching of leaflets and other materials into North Korea by defectors living in South Korea. North Korea would go on to blow up the joint liaison office in Kaesong that had been established to facilitate communication between North and South Korea.

The hotline established at the village of Panmunjom with which South Korean officials have been attempting to call North Korea for the past year has been shut down and reestablished in the past. In 2016, South Korea unilaterally shut down the industrial area at Kaesong that it had previously operated jointly with North Korea in response to North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile testing, to which North Korea responded by severing all lines of communication with the ROK. The hotline at Panmunjom was reestablished in early 2018 following outreach to the South by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in his new year’s address, which included a proposal regarding possible North Korean participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics held in Pyeongchang.

In the interim period between the hotline’s severing and its reestablishment nearly two years later, South Korean officials made daily calls on the line in an effort to ensure that it remained active.

The administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in remains committed to its pursuit of inter-Korean engagement. The success of these efforts at engagement depends heavily on the relaxation of some elements of the sanctions regime currently levied against North Korea, something that the recently unveiled results of the United States’ North Korea policy review do not suggest to be likely.

U.S. President Joe Biden, during his recent summit meeting with President Moon, expressed “support for inter-Korean dialogue, engagement, and cooperation,” although the two leaders largely avoided discussing areas of divergence between their respective countries’ approaches to North Korea.

In addition to its avoidance of communication with the South, North Korea has also distanced itself from engagement with the United States, ignoring back-channel outreach by the Biden administration as well as continuing to dismiss the administration’s efforts at placing the onus for starting diplomatic negotiations on the DPRK.

Written By

Eli Fuhrman is an Assistant Researcher in Korean Studies at the Center for the National Interest and a recent graduate of Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program, where he focusedd on East Asian security issues and U.S. foreign and defense policy in the region.

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