North Korean state media said several phone lines would be closed, including a military-military phone and another line that should directly connect leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. These lines were considered important because they could help prevent accidental military conflicts caused by misinterpretation or miscalculation of the action or intention of the other party.
Choi Hyun-soo, a spokesman for South Korea’s defense ministry, said North Korea did not answer military line phone calls Tuesday morning, for the first time since it was established in 2018. A call to the joint liaison office phone line, which North Korea said was closed Friday, also remained unanswered.
“Inter-Korean communication lines must be maintained in accordance with the agreement, because it is the basic means of communication,” the unification ministry said in a statement, South Korea’s government body dealing with all North Korean affairs.
“The government will continue to work for the peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula, adhering to the inter-Korean agreement.”
Pyongyang said it was coldly covering Seoul as North Korean deficits in South Korea threw balloons into their former home carrying leaflets and SD cards, presumably with information about the outside world. For the average North Korean, it is illegal to consume information that has not been approved by the powerful propaganda machinery, and this can have dire consequences.
Experts believe it is possible that Kim’s regime of issuing leaflets is used to create a crisis – a tactic in North Korea’s handbook on international relations that is often used to create a sense of urgency in negotiations with friends.
“We will never ban the dignity of our top leadership for anything, but will defend it at the cost of our lives,” a statement issued Tuesday in the North Korean state newspaper KCNA said. “You don’t have to sit face to face with the South Korean authorities and have no problem talking to them, because they only fueled our outrage.”
The statement also said Tuesday’s move was “the first step in a determination to completely cut off all means of contact with South Korea and get rid of unnecessary things”.
She and Kim Yong Chol, who served as fellow Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in talks with the United States, were both mentioned on Tuesday. The KCNA also carried Kim Yo Jong’s work on Friday in which the defendants are called “puppy donkeys” and threaten South Korea, suggesting “it’s time to bring their owners to justice”.
The group posted a picture on its website showing several balloons, including one carrying a poster decorated with a cartoon by Kim Jong Un and saying, “While people are starving, what good is a nuclear missile, chemical biological weapons and a political camp prisoners? Let’s stop the hereditary dictatorship of Kim Jong Un! “
The Kim family is treated almost like a deity in the North Korean state media, and insulting any of them can lead to severe punishment. But the decision to step up hostilities could be a political conspiracy that would mean jumping to the start of inter-Korean talks, which have been basically in a neutral position for months.
“Inter-Korean communications are in fact dead and dysfunctional anyway, but Pyongyang is trying to separate the lines of a far bigger deal than it really is,” said Duyeon Kim, a senior adviser at the International Crisis Group specializing in Northeast Asian affairs and nuclear policy.
The first inter-Korean internet line was established in 1971, the unification ministry said. Since then, North Korea has cut off inter-Korean communication at least five times.
“This situation is not ideal, but the two Koreas are used to periods of interrupted channels of dialogue,” Duyeon Kim said.
Talks on achieving several of the main goals set at the summit in April 2018, including ending the Korean War and re-establishing inter-Korean economic projects, have so far failed to progress.
The key point was the sanctions imposed on North Korea by the United Nations and United States Security Councils. Pyongyang desperately needs a hard currency, but sanctions prohibit the country from selling most valuables or engaging in profitable joint projects with the South.
North Korea is trying to put South Korea in a corner, while the United States is still holding on in hopes that a sense of urgency in Seoul will encourage the Moon to cooperate under Kim Jong Un’s terms.
The North Koreans “don’t want the government of the Moon’s government to feel comfortable. They want to create a measured crisis, a controlled crisis,” Lankov said. “North Korea needs a crisis in relations with South Korea, but the kind that won’t be directly attractive in the United States.
The problem, however, is that Moon rode at the political peak after doing better than expected in the parliamentary elections earlier this year. And his constituents don’t particularly care about the escalation cycle with North Korea – that’s something South Koreans are used to. Communication disruption is unlikely to register as a major problem in South Korea, where the economy and a new coronavirus pandemic are currently the most uncommon problem.
Lankov said North Korea’s efforts to create a sense of crisis in South Korea were “extremely unsuccessful.”
“However, that’s not necessarily a good sign,” he said. “Probably the lack of reaction means North Korea is starting to increase the volume, increasing the intensity of provocations.”