South Korea’s daily call to its jointly-run liaison office in North Korea went unanswered for the first time on Monday since its inception two years ago amid reports of a build-up in tensions between the two countries over the use of cross-border propaganda.
The unanswered call came days after Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong threatened to close the liaison office after she was put in charge of relations with the South.
The office was set up as part of an agreement signed by Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in 2018 when the two nations began alleged peace negotiations aimed at cross-border reducing tensions. One of the protocols of the liaison office is that the two sides make two phone calls a day at 09:00 and 17:00. The South’s unification ministry said on Monday that, for the first time in nearly two years, their call had gone unanswered.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry later confirmed that officials had picked up their call in the afternoon.
“Calls between the two Koreas at the liaison office in the afternoon proceeded as normal,” they said in a statement. “North Korea did not mention anything about its unresponsiveness in the morning.”
South Korea’s Defense Ministry confirmed Monday that inter-Korean military communication lines on the Sea of Japan and Yellow Sea Sides were functioning normally, indicating that the situation is not critical.
Tensions have risen as a result of Pyongyang’s increasing anger at the South’s refusal to stop its citizens from sending propaganda balloons over the border. A spokesperson for Kim Yo-jong described their failure as a violation of the 2018 peace agreement and warned of “dire consequences” should they fail to act. According to Chosun Ilbo, her proclamations are viewed by Seoul as a “directive from the leader.”
South Koreans, both private citizens and the government, have been sending propaganda balloons and blasting messages through a loudspeaker over the border for decades in attempts to let North Koreans know the reality of life outside their country.
As part of the regime’s indoctrination program, North Korea tells its citizens that they are one of the most prosperous countries on earth and that South Korea lives in dire poverty. According to recent statistics, around 10.5 million of North Korea’s population of 25 million are malnourished, largely as a result of statist economic policies that have prevented free enterprise from thriving.