On January 3, North Korea reopened the Panmunjom hotline with South Korea. The direct communication line between the North and South, which was suspended by the North in February 2016, was restored at 3 pm local time.
The latest positive development came two days after North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un offered a big olive branch to South Korea by expressing his willingness to participate in the upcoming PyeongChang Winter Olympics in his New Year speech.
As The Diplomat noted, after receiving North Korea’s positive message, South Korean President Moon Jae-in instructed the South Korean Unification Ministry “to quickly come up with follow-up measures for the speedy restoration of South-North Korean dialogue and realize the North Korean delegation’s participation in the PyeongChang Olympics.”
On January 2, the Unification Ministry immediately published a detailed proposal on its official website, suggesting that both sides should hold talks at Panmunjom’s Peace House on January 9 to discuss the North’s participation in the PyeongChang Olympics.
“In order to discuss matters on holding inter-Korean talks, South-North communications channel at Panmunjom must be normalized immediately,” the proposal said.
Just one day after Seoul released the proposal, Kim Jong-un decided to reopen the hotline according to the South’s request.
On January 3, North Korean Central Television broadcast Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland — the counterpart of the South’s Unification Ministry — reading Kim’s order to reopen the hotline.
Ri said Kim highly appreciated the immediate and positive response from the South Korean authorities.
“We will connect with the South with a sincere and diligent attitude,” Ri said. “We once again express our sincere hope that the PyeongChang Olympics will be successful.”
In response, the South’s Unification Ministry issued a second statement on January 3, welcoming the North’s quick and positive reaction.
“Further procedures regarding inter-Korean government talks proposed yesterday will be discussed through the communications channel,” the statement said.
Notably, North Korea announced Kim’s decision just hours after U.S. President Donald Trump provoked Kim Jong-un again on Twitter. “Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” Trump tweeted.
It appears that this time Kim has made up his mind to ignore Trump’s provocative message and focus on mending relations with South Korea.
Kim “stressed that whether inter-Korean ties can be improved totally depends on North and South Korea,” North Korea’s Ri said in his latest TV statement.