June 09, 2020 14:09
North Korea has threatened to sever all communication with the South although in reality none has been taking place for months.
The official [North] Korean Central News Agency said Pyongyang "will completely cut off and shut down all communications lines with the South at noon on Tuesday."
The grandstanding came after a shrilly worded demand by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's sister Yo-jong last week to stop activists from sending propaganda leaflets attached to helium balloons across the border.
North Korea "reached a conclusion that there is no need to sit face to face with the South Korean authorities and there is no issue to discuss with them, as they have only aroused our dismay," Tuesday's statement added.
KCNA said cutting all hotlines will be "the first step of the determination to completely shut down all contact means with South Korea."
Last week Kim Yo-jong already threatened to shut the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong, which has in fact been sitting idle since 2018.
A day earlier the office was even further becalmed than it already had been, when North Korea did not answer one of the formal twice-daily phone calls from South Korea in the morning. It answered the second in the afternoon, but as usual nothing of any import was said.
Even though the North has completely ignored all South Korean overtures since its summit with the U.S. in Hanoi collapsed in February 2018, it had for some reason religiously picked up the phone twice daily for this formality. On Tuesday morning the call went unanswered again.
The KCNA statement warned of a "complete rupture of cross-border relations," while calling the floating of leaflets "graver than a military provocation."
Orchestrated anti-South Korean rallies were held in Pyongyang and Kaesong over the weekend, and further events seem planned elsewhere.
The bluster suggests that the North Korean regime is desperate to deflect attention from its dire economic situation in the wake of international sanctions and border closures due to the coronavirus epidemic, and has alighted on South Korea as a scapegoat.
The reaction from South Korea was muted. "Communication lines between the South and the North are a basic means of communication and should be maintained in accordance with inter-Korean agreements," a Unification Ministry official here said. "While abiding by inter-Korean agreements, the government will make efforts for peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula."
The ministry found itself with egg on its face last week when it threatened to outlaw the balloon campaign only hours after Kim Yo-jong's statement was reported, with an evidently confused spokesman muttering that disseminating leaflets "pollutes" the demilitarized zone and is "harmful to national security."
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