Amidst the talk about North Korea’s participation the upcoming Pyeongchang Olympics in February, North Korea has revived the hotline in Panmunjom with South Korea on Wednesday, January 3rd. It had been nearly two years since North Korea had used the hotline. The hotline, located in the truce village, had been shut down in February 2016, by the former leader Kim Jong-il after South Korea shut down a joint economic project. Since then, South Korean officials have made daily calls to the North using the hotline, but the North had never responded.
In the past, this hotline had been used frequently for both countries to monitor each other’s actions, deliver important news to avoid misunderstandings, and plan family reunions. Consequently, when the North blocked all calls in 2016, South Korean officials could only communicate with a speaker phone across the demilitarized zone. The call on Wednesday had been made to discuss issues including the potential for North Korean delegation in the Olympics, and is said to have been authorized by incumbent Kim Jong-un. The hopes of direct communication have reappeared, and the North had finally accepted the South’s offer for a person-to-person talk. This meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday, January 9th.
While this revival seems hopeful, the responsibilities for South Korean president Moon Jae-in have become burdensome. Moon’s foreign policies have always leaned to peaceful conversation and negotiation, and while he seems to hold his stance, President Trump’s foreign policies regarding the Koreas seem not to be in conjunction. President Trump has been extremely firm concerning North’s nuclear missiles, tweeting merely hours before North’s call that his nuclear “button” was much bigger and more powerful that North Korea’s.
While the tension is high regarding the North’s nuclear weapons, it is evident that North Korea’s demilitarization cannot move independently from the Koreas’ relationship, and North Korea’s initiating a conversation with the South is definitely a positive sign moving forward. Although it is too soon to speak about reunification, the South Korean Unification Ministry expresses hope about conversing with the North’s Committee for Peaceful Reunification and emphasize the importance of open dialogue once again. As Joe Biden says, “This is not a game. This is not about, you know, can I puff my chest out.”