Asia

Commentary: 70 years after war, inter-Korean relations are back at square one

Commentary
Commentary

North Korea destroying the gains of inter-Korean summitry is a cold slap in the face for South Korea, says an observer.

A South Korean soldier stands at a checkpoint on the Tongil bridge near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas AFP/Jung Yeon-je


By
Scott Snyder


(Updated: )

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WASHINGTON: On the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War, the two Koreas face a dramatic breakdown in relations. Tensions rocketed on Jun 16 when North Korea demolished a liaison office that had stood as a symbol of hope for improved communications.

For the South Korean Moon administration, the re-establishment of inter-Korean summitry in 2018 represented an historic step toward establishing a permanent peace, coexistence and economic integration on the Korean Peninsula.

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But now, the motives of the Kim family regime appear increasingly instrumental. North Korean leader Kim Jong Uns 2018 diplomatic summitry and charm offensive failed to unblock monetary flows from South Korea or achieve Kims desired diplomatic rapprochement on equal footing with the United States.

North Koreas slogan appears to be no cash flow, no peace – and certainly no denuclearisation.

READ: Commentary: North Korea is frustrated we are not taking it seriously

READ: North Korea suspends military action plans against South Korea

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A statement on Jun 4 by Kim Yo Jong – Kim Jong Uns influential sister – identified the spread of anti-North Korean leaflets by North Korean defectors as the cause of the rapid unravelling of inter-Korean relations.

But the statement also targeted the Moon administration for its failure to contain the leaflets in contravention of the April 2018 Panmunjom Declaration.

Kim Yo Jongs Jun 14 statement ordered the demolition of the inter-Korean liaison office and was even harsher in its criticism of the Moon administration. She accused the South of failing to open economic cooperation and instead bowing to US pressure and UN sanctions resolutions.

A subsequent statement on Jun 17 directly insulted South Korean President Moon Jae-in and berated him for shifting responsibility for removing obstacles to inter-Korean cooperation by using the US alliance as a pretext.

READ: Commentary: Is North Korea tearing at the seams?

A COLD SLAP TO THE FACE

North Koreas demolition of the accomplishments of inter-Korean summitry is a cold slap in the face to the Moon administration, which had finally gained political and policy momentum.

The resounding success of the majority party in South Koreas April National Assembly election affirmed Moons crisis leadership amid a pandemic, removing legislative opposition to his domestic policy agenda and restoring his public approval ratings.

READ: Commentary: South Korea has pulled off a stunning coronavirus turnaround

South Korean President Moon Jae-in arrives for a Memorial Day ceremony at the national cemetery in Daejeon, South Korea, June 6, 2020. Lee Jin-man/Pool via REUTERS

But North Korea has now pulled the rug from under Moons feet and put South Korea at risk of just the sort of military confrontation that Moon most wanted to avoid.

The apparent ramping up of military tensions as North Korean authorities move to return the inter-Korean relationship to the status quo prior to 2018 is most worrisome.

The Korean Peoples Army General Staff announced its intention to redeploy forces to the Mount Kumgang tourist area and the Kaesong Industrial Zone, reinstall guard posts at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that were removed under the September 2018 Comprehensive Military Agreement, and resume regular military exercises near the border.

Despite holding out hope that inter-Korean summitry and special envoys could save the day, the Moon administration finally _