By AsiaToday reporter Heo Go-woon
The inter-Korean communication channel in Panmunjom has been restored for the first time in 23 months, raising anticipation for better inter-Korean ties with the PyeongChang Olympic Games.
South Korea's Unification Ministry said Wednesday that the North and South Korean liaison officers have held a phone conversation via the reopened communication channel in Panmunjom. According to the ministry, North Korea called the South side at 3:30 p.m. and the two sides' communications officers checked for possible faults in the inter-Korean connection, but there was no discussion on the high-level inter-Korean talks that the South proposed.
Earlier in the day, Ri Son-kwon, the head of North Korea's agency handling inter-Korean affairs, said on state television that the country will reopen the suspended inter-Korean communication channel at 3:00 pm in Pyongyang time (3:30 pm in South Korean time). He said Kim Jong-un had ordered to allow for discussions about sending a delegation to South Korea's upcoming Winter Olympics.
"We will closely communicate with South Korea in a serious and sincere attitude in accordance of the leadership's will," Ri said. He added that the North will discuss practical issues related to dispatching its delegation with the South.
North Korea has not responded via the Panmunjom communication channel since the South Korean government's decision to withdraw from the Kaesong Industrial Complex in February 2016, and the inter-Korean communication channel has been virtually cut off. Since then, South Korea's liaison officers in Panmunjom have been attempting to reach North Korean officials by calling at 9 am and 4 pm every day, except holidays, but the North had not answered.
The hotline that had been closed for 23 months was reopened immediately after the beginning of new year. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expressed his willingness to participate in the PyeongChang Olympic Games in his New Year speech and suggested a South-North meeting to prepare for it.
On the following day, South Korean President Moon Jae-in urged authorities to organize follow-up measures to quickly restore dialogue between the two countries and realize the North's participation in the Pyongchang Olympic Games at the first National Security Council (NSC) meeting held this year. The same afternoon, the country's unification minister Cho Myoung-gyon proposed high-level talks with North Korea on January 9. On the following day, North Korea responded by making a phone call via Panmunjom channel.
In particular, North Korea exceptionally expressed its respect for the South Korean government by mentioning President Moon Jae-in. Ri said that Kim Jong-un viewed positively and welcomed the fact that President Moon Jae-in expressed his willingness to actively support and ordered practical measures in the PyeongChang Olympics and other related matters at the Cabinet meeting held on Tuesday.
The South Korean government welcomes the reopening of the Panmunjom communication channel and expects that the channel can be used for everyday conversation beyond the preparations for participating in the PyeongChang Olympic Games.