North Korea did not pick up the first call to start the day on Monday at the inter-Korean joint liaison office in Kaesong. This marks the first time that Pyongyang has refused to answer the phone since the office was established in September 2018. The hotline remained open early last year even when the North sent the personnel back into office after pulling them out after the rupture in Hanoi. It was on Friday that the Democratic Front for the Reunification of Korea announced to shut down the liaison office following the “order” from Kim Yo Jong and the effect turned out to be immediate starting on Monday.
The refusal to answer the phone should probably be the first step towards the shutdown of liaison office as warned in Kim Yo Jong’s statement last Thursday. It is an ominous forecast that the next steps could be the complete destruction of the Kaesong industrial park and the abrogation of the September 19 military agreement between the two Koreas. Notably, the North kept operational the military communication line in the East and West seas as well as the international merchant ships network. It is highly likely that Pyongyang will steadily crank up the intensity of pressure, cutting off the military communications and terminating the military pact eventually.
North Korea’s Seoul-bashing is expected to continue until the end of this month. Now that North Korean defectors in the South are preparing to disseminate one million leaflets to North Korea on June 25 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Korean War, Pyongyang will be watching the responses from Seoul before finalizing its stance on leaflets-sending. The North is also beefing up solidarity internally, holding mass rallies every day. North Korean media are pouring expletives against the South, accusing it of doing “unbecoming acts like an imbecile” while blustering to go to any length for confrontation.
Against this backdrop, however, the South continues to fall back on appeasement. A South Korean deputy minister of unification visited the DMZ forest restoration site, and the leaders of the ruling party vowed to swiftly handle the ban on leaflets dissemination against the North. In the face of the senseless remarks from Pyongyang, they urge to refrain from making emotional responses while accusing the opposition party of “driving a wedge between the people and the government.” The son of a former president questioned the true intention of the North Korean defectors in question. Each of those cases attests to how the leaders in Seoul become tamed by the North.
What the North is really after is America’s presidential election, which is only five months away. Trump’s re-election matters a great deal to Pyongyang, which considers the presidential election as opportunity to make its presence felt. For Pyongyang, Seoul is merely a stepping stone, and this time the North wants to render it incapacitated. Seoul’s policy that is bent on pacifying the North will only fuel its brinkmanship.