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A New Beginning: Opening North and South Korea Channels of Communication

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Communication channels, between North Korea and South Korea, which have been closed for the past year, have been reopened after a long break. In the statement, made after the aforementioned progress, it was hoped that the “bilateral relations” would be restored as soon as possible within the understanding of mutual trust. The communication channels that were reopened in the 68th year of the truce that ended the Korean War have been a positive step towards the normalization of relations.

In accordance with this information, Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM) presents the reflections of the normalization between North and South Korea in the light of the opinions received from the leading experts and academics in their fields.

Dr. Nazmül İSLAM (ANKASAM Asia-Pacific Coordinator)

Dr. Nazmül İslam commented on the issue by saying, “The relationship between the sides deteriorated after an unsuccessful summit and North Korea became the side that cut off the helpline/communication channels in June 2020. However, developing strong and understandable relations is a necessity for both countries. Since 2018, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have met three times to improve bilateral relations and mutual understanding. However, these talks failed for various reasons.”‎

Emphasizing that the Seoul-Pyongyang helpline does not consist of a single communication channel and that more than 40 phone lines are connecting North Korea and South Korea, Islam said, “Besides, there are 15 phone lines outside of Panmunjom due to geographical reasons. Among these, there are the lines at the military authorities and the railway lines between Dorasan Station in the south and Panmun Station in the north. Most also pass through the Panmunjom ‎Joint Security Zone (JSA) within the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and are protected by the Red Cross. The helpline created to improve communication between the two countries is one of the easiest and most effective tools that can provide peace, at least in the short term.”

Prof. Mesut Hakkı CAŞIN (Yeditepe University-Faculty of Law)

Expressing that the softening between the sides is not a coincidence, Prof. Dr. Mesut Hakkı Caşın said, “On the one hand, the sides came together due to the anniversary of the Korean War; on the other hand, as stated in the diplomatic statements, the opening of communication channels is positive progress. Because the entire Korean nation wants to see North-South relations without tension. Therefore, opening channels of communication is a good start diplomatically.”

Caşın commented, “The opening of communication channels and the initiation of correspondence between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in are the first developments between the two sides, experienced since 2009. Former US President Donald Trump’s attempt to win Korea had failed. When we look at in which way the new President Joe Biden’s policy will be shaped, it can be seen that this policy mostly focused on the statement that China should be kept under control at the point of ensuring security in Asia. Although Biden has made it clear that he will not break ties with Beijing, it is possible to say that he is following Trump’s way.”

Stating that there is an equation in the relations of the two states, Caşın described the situation in question by saying, “So; there are nuclear weapons and nearly 30,000 American soldiers in South Korea. There are no Chinese soldiers in North Korea. However, North Korea acquired nuclear weapons due to the pressure of the United States and did so by leaving the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Japan, which is the closest country to the region along with South Korea, is the state that is most offended by this situation. It should not be forgotten that; Korea was a colony of Japan until the Second World War before seceding as a peninsula.”

Reminding that the authorities of Japan, the USA, and South Korea held a meeting recently, Caşın made the statement, “At the meeting, a decision was taken to clean the peninsula from nuclear weapons. They wanted to carry out this decision under cooperation called the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Vision. However, there is another side that is not mentioned here, and that is Russia. The Moscow administration is behind North Korea. In other words, it will protect North Korea in a possible US intervention.”

Caşın commented, “Another issue is that there are some ideas on the issue that Kim Jong-un is an adventurer. He is highly educated. North Korea’s request from the United States is for Washington to declare that it respects their territorial unity and to guarantee that they will not attack them in return for giving up their nuclear weapons. This guarantee has not yet been given by the USA. This also shows that; there is a division in the Korean Peninsula and it will continue. The current balance here will be maintained with nuclear weapons.”

Caşın said, “The equation in question will continue in the region as it is. It will even put pressure on the solution of the Taiwan Problem. It is obvious that such tension will not bring any benefit to the sides. This means that more weapons will be sold to the region.”

Finally, Caşın concluded his statements by saying, “North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met with Chinese President Xi Jinping a short time ago. During the meeting, it was stated that China and North Korea would support each other. Here, a truth emerges: China now shows itself as a serious and dominant power against the USA in both Asia-Pacific and world politics.”

Dr. Zhanggui ZHOU (Manager of International Cooperation Mechanism Center)

Dr. Zhanggui Zhou said in his statement, “On July 27, 2021, it was announced that the communication channels between the two countries were restarted and there was a personal correspondence between the leaders of the two countries. It is remembered that Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, published a statement on this issue on August 1, 2021. In that statement, it was expressed that North Korea closely followed the South Korea-USA joint military practice.”

Giving an example from history, Zhou said, “Considering that Rome was not built in a day, it will take time to fill and repair the political gap between the two countries, especially in terms of continuing the summit meetings and returning to deep dialogues. What needs to be done is to continue to closely monitor the situation on the Korean Peninsula. Although communication channels were reopened on July 27, 2021, it would be early and hasty judgment to expand the meaning of this development without reason and even think the South-North summit.”

Finally, Zhou drew attention to global actors by saying, “We should also pay attention to possible adjustments in USA foreign policy towards North Korea after Biden’s taking office. It is essential that the problem occurring on the Korean Peninsula be evaluated from a broader geopolitical perspective. The balance of interests between the USA, China, Russia, and Japan should also be considered.”

Murat BİLHAN (Retired Ambassador)

In his statement on the subject, Retired Ambassador Murat Bilhan said, “My first impressions at this stage are that the current status quo will not last forever. The two Koreas will, one day, be united just like the two Germanys. I hope the price of this delay will not be too serious.”

Bilhan made a statement by saying, “Although it is a fact that South Korea’s first dicta regime was changed, I think it is too early for a full democracy to be achieved. North Korea is already excluded from any classification.”

Finally, Bilhan ended his statements by saying, “The USA seems to be letting down its old friend South Korea if there is not the Chinese factor. It is difficult to say that Washington is pleased with Seoul’s technological achievements. It may not want to share the scale of superiority that it wants to keep to itself. Frankly, I do not think that the USA will make an effort for the happiness of the Far East countries. Washington aims to stop China, as it has already explained.”

Assoc. Prof. Alexander Dukalskis (University College Dublin)

Expressing his views on the developments, Assoc. Prof. Alexander Dukalskis said, “Reopening the communication channels, contrary to the general belief, will not have a sharp impact on the relations between the two countries.”

Drawing attention to the historical development of relations between the sides, Dukalskis said, “The reopening of the helpline and the re-starting of correspondence between Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un are positive developments for the region. However, relations on the Seoul-Pyongyang line have been shaped around decades of repetitive beginnings, pauses, and returns like the last rapprochement.”

Dukalskis said, “Although the intimacies we have witnessed recently are interesting for the world public opinion, when we look at the issue from a historical perspective, we understand that there is no need to get too excited.”

Cenk ÖZKÖMÜR (Journalist)

In his evaluation, Journalist Cenk Özkömür said, “What the tension between the sides means in the region is important. Therefore, the North-South dialogue essentially contains the possibility of the resumption of the Pyongyang-Washington dialogue.”

Regarding the events between the two countries, Özkömür said, “If we go back to the past, it is possible to see that the South Korean administrations are not as supporter of the dialogue as Moon Jae-in and even they do not refrain from escalating tensions. However, the escalation of tension did not frighten North Korea; on the contrary, it gave Pyongyang more trump cards. As it will be remembered, in March 2010, a North Korean submarine sank a corvette off the coast of South Korea. North Korea did not even apologize. As South Korea practises, North Korea’s threat perception rises and threat discourse becomes legitimate.”

Reminding that the situation is the same in terms of the USA-North Korea tension, Özkömür said, “One side said, ‘Give up nuclear weapons, let me lift the sanctions’; the other side says ‘Remove the sanctions, let me give up nuclear weapons’ and the sides do not want to take a step back in finding a compromise. In fact, at the Hanoi Summit between Kim and Trump, the North Korean leader offered to partially reduce its nuclear power, and this request was rejected by Trump. Also, as seen in the Moon period, the demand for dialogue did not give any results.”

Özkömür said, “Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un met three times in 2018. Moon succeeded in convincing Trump. However, the Hanoi Summit between North Korea and the United States in 2019 failed and North Korea left the table.”

Stating that Biden is expected to take a more balanced stance compared to Trump, Özkömür said, “USA appointed nuclear negotiator for North Korea, not a human rights envoy and that is seen as a signal given by the Biden administration. Although the USA State Department says that this is a process and that a human rights ambassador will be appointed sooner or later, this choice can only be considered a gesture. At this point, Pyongyang will be expected to take a step.”

Özge ELETEK
Özge Eletek 1999 yılında İzmir’de doğdu. İlk ve orta öğretim hayatını İzmir’de tamamlayan Eletek, 2017 yılında Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nü kazandı. Çeşitli düşünce kuruluşlarında birçok konferans ve seminere katılan Eletek, Ankara Kriz ve Siyaset Araştırmaları Merkezi’ndeki stajını sürdürmektedir.