Kim Jong Un marks 68th anniversary of Korean War as North and South reopen communications

Kim Jong Un has marked the 68th anniversary of the end of the Korean War with a military ceremony as North and South Korea exchanged messages for the first time in a year.

Thousands of veterans and and supporters gathered in Pygongyang for the celebrations with a big firework display in front of the Monument to the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War on Tuesday.

The event marked the signing of the armistice which ended the Korean War, which pitted North against South, backed separately by China and the US, in the 1950-1953 conflict.

Thousands of veterans and and supporters gathered in Pygongyang for the celebrations with a big firework display in front of the Monument to the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War on Tuesday

Thousands of veterans and and supporters gathered in Pygongyang for the celebrations with a big firework display in front of the Monument to the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War on Tuesday

Thousands of veterans and and supporters gathered in Pygongyang for the celebrations with a big firework display in front of the Monument to the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War on Tuesday

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shakes the hand of former premier Choe Yong-rim during the 7th National Conference of War Veterans

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shakes the hand of former premier Choe Yong-rim during the 7th National Conference of War Veterans

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shakes the hand of former premier Choe Yong-rim during the 7th National Conference of War Veterans

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits Fatherland Liberation War Martyrs Cemetery with military officers to mark the 68th anniversary of the Korean armistice in Pyongyang

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits Fatherland Liberation War Martyrs Cemetery with military officers to mark the 68th anniversary of the Korean armistice in Pyongyang

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits Fatherland Liberation War Martyrs Cemetery with military officers to mark the 68th anniversary of the Korean armistice in Pyongyang

That armistice has yet to be replaced with a peace treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula in a technical state of war, with about 28,500 U.S. troops still stationed in South Korea. 

But there was a sign of a thaw in the hostile relationship between the neighbouring Asian countries as they restored communication channels that had been lying dormant for a year on Tuesday. 

Liaison officials from the Koreas had several phone conversations including one on a military hotline and agreed to resume speaking regularly, Seoul officials said. 

The rivals use the channels to lay out their positions on issues and even propose broader dialogue, and the links are also critical to preventing any accidental clashes along their disputed sea boundary.

The event marked the signing of the armistice which ended the Korean War, which pitted North against South, backed separately by China and the US, in the 1950-1953 conflict

The event marked the signing of the armistice which ended the Korean War, which pitted North against South, backed separately by China and the US, in the 1950-1953 conflict

The event marked the signing of the armistice which ended the Korean War, which pitted North against South, backed separately by China and the US, in the 1950-1953 conflict

While the renewed communication could help ease tensions across the world’s most heavily fortified border, it’s only a small first step. 

Pyongyang is unlikely to revive vigorous cooperation programs with Seoul or get back to the nuclear talks led by the United States anytime soon. 

Some experts say North Korea is instead aiming to improve ties with South Korea in the hopes it will persuade the U.S. to make concessions when nuclear diplomacy with Washington eventually does resume.

Those efforts have been stalled for more than two years amid wrangling over punishing U.S.-led sanctions on the North. During the diplomatic impasse, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has threatened to enlarge his nuclear arsenal if the U.S. doesn’t abandon its hostile policy, an apparent reference to the sanctions.

On Tuesday, the two Koreas announced their leaders – Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in – have traded personal letters several times since April and decided in those exchanges to resume communication in the channels.

Moon’s office said the two leaders agreed to ‘restore mutual confidence and develop their relationships again as soon as possible.’ 

Liaison officials from the Koreas had several phone conversations including one on a military hotline and agreed to resume speaking regularly, Seoul officials said

Liaison officials from the Koreas had several phone conversations including one on a military hotline and agreed to resume speaking regularly, Seoul officials said

Liaison officials from the Koreas had several phone conversations including one on a military hotline and agreed to resume speaking regularly, Seoul officials said

The North’s state media, for its part, said Kim and Moon agreed to ‘make a big stride in recovering the mutual trust and promoting reconciliation by restoring the cutoff inter-Korean communication liaison lines.’

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the announcement of the reopening of communication channels and ‘fully supports the continued efforts of the parties towards the improvement of their relationship, sustainable peace and complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,’ U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said. 

North Korea occasionally cuts off communication in the channels – by not replying to South Korean phone calls or faxes – in times of tensions with Seoul and Washington.

The most recent cutoff came in June of last year after North Korea accused the South of failing to stop activists from floating anti-Pyongyang leaflets across their border. An angry North Korea later blew up an empty, South Korean-built liaison office just north of the countries’ border.

Many experts said the provocative action signaled the North was frustrated that Seoul failed to revive lucrative joint-Korean projects that gave the North badly needed foreign currency and to persuade the U.S. to ease the sanctions.

Tuesday's resumption of communication comes on the 68h anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War

Tuesday's resumption of communication comes on the 68h anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War

Tuesday’s resumption of communication comes on the 68h anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War

Senior South Korean presidential official Park Soo Hyun said later Tuesday that Seoul believes improved ties between the Koreas would help restart the stalled nuclear diplomacy

Senior South Korean presidential official Park Soo Hyun said later Tuesday that Seoul believes improved ties between the Koreas would help restart the stalled nuclear diplomacy

Senior South Korean presidential official Park Soo Hyun said later Tuesday that Seoul believes improved ties between the Koreas would help restart the stalled nuclear diplomacy

Those sanctions, together with storms last summer and border shutdowns during the coronavirus pandemic, are battering the isolated North’s economy, creating what Kim called its ‘worst-ever’ crisis. Still, outside monitoring groups haven’t seen signs of mass starvation or social chaos in the country of 26 million people.

Nam Sung-wook, a professor at Korea University, said the resumed communication likely won’t lead to a dramatic improvement in ties in the near term – but could pave the way for something down the road.

‘North Korea knows it has to sit down for talks with the Biden administration one day. It thinks South Korea still has an effective value … to make Biden move’ in a direction that it favors, said Nam. ‘North Korea can also build up an (international image) that it’s willing to continue dialogue’ with the outside world.

Senior South Korean presidential official Park Soo Hyun said later Tuesday that Seoul believes improved ties between the Koreas would help restart the stalled nuclear diplomacy.

Moon, who espouses greater reconciliation with North Korea, earlier shuttled between Pyongyang and Washington to facilitate a 2018 summit between Kim and then-U.S. President Donald Trump – the first such meeting between the countries’ leaders. But North Korea abruptly gave Moon the cold shoulder after a second proposed Kim-Trump summit fell apart in early 2019 after Trump rebuffed Kim’s push to win extensive sanctions relief in return for dismantling his main nuclear complex.

Since taking office in January, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has called on North Korea to return to a negotiating table

Since taking office in January, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has called on North Korea to return to a negotiating table

Since taking office in January, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has called on North Korea to return to a negotiating table

Since taking office in January, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has called on North Korea to return to a negotiating table. But last month senior North Korean officials, including Kim’s powerful sister, dismissed prospects for an early resumption of the talks.

Some experts think North Korea may be compelled to reach out to the U.S. or South Korea if its economic difficulties worsen. By taking steps to improve relations with Seoul now, the North may be preparing for that moment.

Park Won Gon, a professor of North Korea studies at Seoul’s Ewha Womans University, cautioned against reading too much into what the communication channels’ restoration means about the North’s economic difficulties. He cited reports that North Korea is still refusing to receive aid even from China, its major ally, due to worries that aid deliveries could spread the virus.

He said North Korea may be hoping that warming ties will help South Korean liberals who support better ties with the North win next March’s presidential elections.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CONFLICT BETWEEN NORTH KOREA AND SOUTH KOREA

In June 1950 fighting broke out between the communist North and capitalist South, sparking a brutal war that killed between two and four million people.

Beijing backed Pyongyang in the three-year conflict, while Washington threw its support behind the South — alliances that have largely endured.

The Koreas have been locked in a dangerous dance ever since that conflict ended in 1953 with an armistice rather than a formal peace treaty, leaving them technically at war.

Pyongyang has tested the fragile ceasefire with numerous attacks.

The secretive nation sent a team of 31 commandos to Seoul in a botched attempt to assassinate then-President Park Chung-Hee in 1968. All but two were killed.

In the ‘axe murder incident’ of 1976, North Korean soldiers attacked a work party trying to chop down a tree inside the Demilitarized Zone, leaving two US army officers dead.

Pyongyang launched perhaps its most audacious assassination attempt in Myanmar in 1983, when a bomb exploded in a Yangon mausoleum during a visit by South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan. He survived but 21 people, including some government ministers, were killed.

U.S. Marines covering the road leading to the front lines in South Korea in 1950

U.S. Marines covering the road leading to the front lines in South Korea in 1950

U.S. Marines covering the road leading to the front lines in South Korea in 1950

In 1987 a bomb on a Korean Air flight exploded over the Andaman Sea, killing all 115 people on board. Seoul accused Pyongyang, which denied involvement.

The North’s founding leader Kim Il-Sung died in 1994, but under his son Kim Jong-Il it continued to prod its southern neighbor.

In 1996 a North Korean submarine on a spying mission ran aground off the eastern South Korean port of Gangneung, sparking 45-day manhunt that ended with 24 crew members and infiltrators killed.

A clash between South Korean and North Korean naval ships in 1999 left some 50 of the North’s soldiers dead.

In March 2010 Seoul accused Pyongyang of torpedoing one of its corvette warships, killing 46 sailors. Pyongyang denied the charge.

November that year saw North Korea launch its first attack on a civilian-populated area since the war, firing 170 artillery shells at Yeonpyeong. Four people were killed, including two civilians.

North Korea has steadfastly pursued its banned nuclear and ballistic missile programs since its first successful test of an atomic bomb in 2006, as it looks to build a rocket capable of delivering a warhead to the US mainland.

Its progress has accelerated under leader Kim Jong-Un, culminating in its sixth and biggest nuclear test in September 2017.

Kim has since declared the country a nuclear power.

Despite the caustic effect of clashes and the battery of conventional weapons that the North has amassed at the border to threaten Seoul, the two nations have held talks in the past.

Then North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il held two historic summits with counterparts from the South in 2000 and 2007, which eased tensions between the neighbors.

Lower-level talks since then have been much hyped but failed to produce significant results.

Source: AFP 

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