North Korea has said it will cut off all inter-Korean communication lines with the South, including a hotline between the two nations’ leaders.
Daily calls, which have been made to a liaison office located in the North Korean border city of Kaesong, will cease from Tuesday. The two states had set up the office to reduce tensions after talks in 2018.
Military communication channels will also be cut, North Korea said.
Kim Yo-jong, the North Korean leader’s sister, threatened last week to close the office unless South Korea stopped defector groups from sending leaflets into the North. North Korean defectors occasionally send balloons carrying leaflets critical of the communist region into the North, sometimes with supplies to entice North Koreans to pick them up.
It’s likely that this shut down isn’t just about sending leaflets over the border – but instead, all part of a grander plan by Pyongyang. North Korea may be creating a crisis in order to use the tension as leverage in later talks. In short, it could be simply spoiling for a fight to get attention and ask for more from its neighbor. They’ve played this particular game before in 2013 to try to win more concessions from South Korea.
It’s also a good distraction domestically. Kim Jong-un is failing to deliver the economic prosperity he keeps promising and rumors continue to circulate that Covid-19 is affecting parts of the country. Giving the nation a common enemy helps rally his people back around a cause. The North said this was the first in a series of actions, describing South Korea as “the enemy”.
It’s worth noting Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-Jong gave the order to sever ties with Seoul. This gives her a platform and the spotlight and will fuel more speculation that she is being groomed as a potential leader.