- North and South Korea reopened hotlines on Tuesday for direct communication between the two countries.
- The lines were severed last summer, when the North also destroyed a joint liaison office.
- North and South Korean leaders have been exchanging letters and have agreed to pursue reconciliation.
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North and South Korea restored cross-border hotlines on Tuesday after all communication between the two countries ended last summer.
In June 2020, after a period of engagement between the two Koreas, the North announced that it was shutting down all inter-Korean communication lines. A week later, North Korea destroyed the joint liaison office in Kaesong.
That same month, North Korea said that hopes for peace and prosperity on the Korean peninsula had "faded away into a dark nightmare."
But North Korea appears to be again ready for some form of engagement. The decision to restore communication was made by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un following the exchange of multiple letters since April.
Moon's office said that he and Kim had decided to "restore mutual confidence and develop their relationships again as soon as possible." North Korean state media said the two leaders had agreed to "make a big stride in recovering the mutual trust and promoting reconciliation," the AP reported.
A military line, as well as cross-border phone lines in the border truce village of Panmunjom, were restored Tuesday, Reuters reported.
After the phone lines were reopened, there was a three-minute exchange in which the South Korean side opened with the friendly greeting: "We are happy to connect after more than a year," according to The Wall Street Journal.
The restoration of the communication lines between the two Koreas comes on the 68th anniversary of the signing of the armistice agreement that brought an end to Korean War hostilities, though not the war itself.
The big question in this development is why North Korea, which has repeatedly rebuffed South Korean attempts to engage it, is now open to some degree of communication.
The exact impact of the coronavirus pandemic on North Korea is unclear, but there is evidence that the country's economy has taken a hit. There are also reports of food shortages. In recent speeches, Kim has made references to an unspecified great crisis linked to the pandemic. It is unclear if these are motivations for efforts toward engagement.
In their discussions, Moon and Kim have reportedly talked about working together to combat the negative effects of the current global health situation.
Reopening the communication lines is a step toward peaceful engagement between the two Koreas, but it remains to be seen if this will lead to diplomatic engagement between North Korea and the US, which continues to seek the North's denuclearization.