North Korea - South Korea
Chronology from May 2021 to Aug 2021
: As US-ROK drills conclude, Urimizokiri calls them “a dangerous playing with fire.” Since Kim Yo Jong’s salvos, Pyongyang’s criticism has been relatively muted.
: MOU says seven new video conference facilities for virtual separated family reunions, additional to and more widely located than the 13 that already exist, will be ready by the end of this month.
: “Military sources” tell Yonhap that North Korea declared a no-sail zone off its east coast for Aug. 15-16. This usually precedes a missile launch (though Pyongyang often gives no such warning). South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) say that no such launch or other weapons test occurred.
: More downbeat than usual, MOU Lee urges North Korea to return to talks soon, since “it is highly likely that the momentum for the peace process on the Korean Peninsula will weaken” due to the impact of various external factors.
: In a Liberation Day speech, Moon Jae-in suggests that both Koreas would benefit from “institutionalizing peace” on the peninsula, to create a German-style trust-building system.
: Kim Yong Chol, head of the WPK’s United Front Department (UFD) which handles South Korea, lambasts Seoul for ignoring Kim Yo Jong’s warning and going ahead with “frantic military exercises” (which are desk-based). He warns: “We will make them realize by the minute what a dangerous choice they made and what a serious security crisis they will face because of their wrong choice.”
: After Yoon Seok-youl—ex-prosecutor-general, now a leading presidential contender for the conservative opposition PPP—asks publicly whether any secret deal lay behind reopening hotlines with North Korea, the Blue House says that is “untrue.”
: Kim Yo Jong issues another statement, blasting the “perfidious” South and the US for going ahead with “dangerous war exercises … designed to stifle our state by force, and an unwelcoming act of self-destruction for which a dear price should be paid.”
: After heavy flooding in South Hamgyong province on the DPRK’s east coast, MOU says Seoul will explore every avenue for offering assistance. Pyongyang has steadfastly refused such help. The floods have not been discussed on the restored hotlines.
: Citing “sources,” Yonhap reports that South Korea has “tentatively” decided to go ahead with scaled-back US-ROK drills, without any field component. The computer-based Combined Command Post Training (CCPT) will run Aug. 16-26, after four days of crisis management staff training starting Aug. 10. Despite Pyongyang’s objections, the source says: “We are working to stage the exercise as planned, which is a regular one and necessary for a combined readiness posture.”
: Yonhap reports that calls to postpone this summer’s US-ROK military drills are gaining traction within the ruling Democratic Party (DP).
: At a rare Blue House meeting with ROK military top brass, Moon tells MND Suh Wook to hold “prudent consultations” with Washington on joint exercises.
: North Korea finally answers the South’s calls made by radio link on the international merchant marine network hotline. Seoul had been phoning for a week, but—unlike their fixed hotlines—Pyongyang had not yet responded on this channel.
: South Korean lawmakers, briefed by the NIS, say the spy agency told them it was Kim Jong Un who requested that inter-Korean communications lines be restored.
: MOU spokesperson Lee says the South will take a “wise and flexible” stance on US-ROK drills. Earlier, an anonymous ministry official called suspending the drills “desirable.” Lee adds that Pyongyang has not yet replied to Seoul’s offer of virtual talks. MND, however, says the allies are discussing when and how to hold the military exercises.
: “Government sources” tell Yonhap North Korea is using the reopened hotlines to fax details every morning “about foreign fishing boats operating illegally in the Yellow Sea, such as their number and exact locations.” South Korea sends the North its own assessments, which tend to tally. All this prevents accidental clashes. Some 20-30 Chinese vessels are typically found in Korean waters, near the inter-Korean maritime border.
: MOU says that starting today it will resume approving requests by NGOs to send aid to North Korea, suspended for 10 months since the killing of Lee Dae-jun.
: Blue House says Seoul will push for virtual family reunions as an inter-Korean priority. There have been no reunions since the last in-person ones in August 2018.
: On the second day of restored inter-Korean communications, the Blue House denies a claim by Reuters that the two sides are planning a fourth Moon-Kim summit: “There have been no discussions on either face-to-face contact or virtual talks.” Earlier, Cheong Wa Dae also nixes reports that the ROK will send a special envoy to Pyongyang, citing COVID-19 constraints.
: MOU pledges to use newly restored communications with North Korea to raise the case of Lee Dae-jun, the ROK fisheries official killed last September at sea by the KPA in contested circumstances. Having met with MOU Lee, the victim’s brother urges Seoul to push for talks with Pyongyang and deliver his letter to Kim Jong Un.
: Blue House announces that by agreement of President Moon and Kim Jong Un, as of 10am the two Koreas have reopened hotlines that the North cut in June 2020. KCNA confirms the resumption, cites “the recent several exchanges of personal letters” and adds: “Now, the whole Korean nation desires to see the North-South relations recovered from setback and stagnation as early as possible.”
: MND confirms restoration of inter-Korean military hotlines: “Phone calls and faxing to exchange documents now operate normally.” The western line is fine, but the eastern one has technical problems.
: KINU reports that recent defector testimony suggests there are fewer public executions in the DPRK, and less mobilization of citizens than formerly. However, the regime has cracked down harder on mobile phones and other digital devices in border regions, in a bid to stop South Korean popular culture flowing in.
: Rebutting Lee, MOU says “the South Korean government does not support unification by absorption … It pursues peaceful unification through brisk exchanges and cooperation, and eventually inter-Korean agreement based on mutual respect of the other’s system.”
: In a TV debate Lee Jun-seok repeats his call to abolish MOU, adding that he favors “unification by peaceful absorption” of North Korea.
: Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), the ROK’s main state think tank on the DPRK, publishes an opinion survey. Although over 90% of South Koreans polled think Pyongyang will not give up nuclear weapons, indifference toward the North (especially among the young) is growing—as is hostility to sending aid for COVID-19.
: DPRK media for external consumption attack Lee Jun-seok, the new young head of the ROK conservative opposition PPP, for advocating abolition of the gender equality ministry. Meari calls this a “reactionary view,” while Uriminzokkiri accuses Lee of “showing outright discrimination against women.” Unmentioned is the other ministry Lee also urged to be scrapped as purposeless or outmoded: MOU.
: Uriminzokkiri, a DPRK website for external audiences, warns South Korea not to go ahead with joint maneuvers with the US: “War games and schemes to strengthen armed forces will never stand hand in hand with peace.”
: ROK sends a written response to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, rebutting concerns voiced in April by the UN Special Rapporteur on North Korean human rights that South Korea’s anti-leafleting law violates freedom of speech.
: Briefing the ROK National Assembly’s intelligence committee, NIS confirms that KAERI was hacked, presumptively by North Korea (see June 18). It also reports that Kim Jong Un has lost 10-20 kg in weight but is healthy, and on other matters.
: Amid wild rumors in Seoul that Kim Jong Un is unconscious after a cerebral hemorrhage and his uncle Kim Pyong Il has staged a coup, the NIS seeks to steady the ship: “We determine that the speculation about Kim’s health is groundless … [he] presided over a politburo meeting all day long on June 29 and has carried out state affairs normally as head of state.”
: MOU spokesperson Lee Jong-joo says North Korea is facing greater volatility in prices and foreign exchange rates. The ROK government is “keeping an eye” on this.
: An official at Hanawon, South Korea’s resettlement center for North Korean defectors, says they admitted just 57 in the first half of 2021: down 85% from the 380 who entered during the same period last year. Fresh arrivals in the ROK—who are questioned by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) before their three-month stay in Hanawon—fell from 31 in the first quarter to a record low of two in the second quarter.
: Meeting with Sung Kim, the new US Special Representative for North Korea, MOU Lee calls for “active and agile” US-ROK cooperation to bring Pyongyang back to talks.
: ROK opposition lawmaker Ha Tae-keung of the conservative People Power Party (PPP) says the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) was hacked on May 14. Some of the 13 external IP address intruders came from servers linked to North Korea’s “Kimsuky” network. Ha claims that KAERI denied the breach before admitting it, and accuses the government of reluctance to acknowledge DPRK cyber-attacks.
: Citing “government sources,” Yonhap says that on June 16 a South Korean man in his 40s stole a boat on Baengnyeong, an ROK island near the DPRK coast, and tried to defect to the North—but failed, as it ran out of fuel and drifted.
: On the 21st anniversary of the first North-South summit, both MOU Lee and his ministry urge North Korea to resume dialogue and restore communication channels. Lee opines that “quite good conditions” for dialogue now exist. He also postpones a plan to visit the US, citing uncertainties in inter-Korean relations.
: In Vienna (while on a state visit to Austria), Moon Jae-in says he will seek to cooperate with North Korea in providing COVID-19 vaccines, given South Korea’s bid to become a “global vaccine production hub.”
: International Olympic Committee (IOC) names Brisbane as the sole candidate city to host the 2032 summer Olympic Games. This means the always far-fetched joint bid by Seoul and Pyongyang to co-host in 2032 is officially dead.
: MOU declines to join in frenzied media speculation about Kim Jong Un’s apparent recent weight loss. While analyzing photographs of his public appearances, “we have nothing to say about his health issues, and it is not our place to openly comment on it.”
: MOU says it continues to call North Korea at 0900 every day, but no one picks up. The line at Panmunjom is not “cut,” as there is still a dial tone.
: MOU spokesperson Lee Jong-ju praises project by Gyeonggi province and the Korean Peasants League to create a “farmland for peace.” This would grow rice for North Korea near Gunnam dam, 62 km north of Seoul, built in 2010 on the Imjin river to cope with sudden water discharges by the DPRK upstream, after one such surge in 2009 killed six South Koreans. Despite a 2009 inter-Korean agreement to give notice in future, last year Pyongyang several times released water from its Hwanggang dam without notifying Seoul.
: Speaking on TV, MOU Lee calls for “maximum flexibility” in regard to joint military maneuvers with the US, due in August. These “should never work in a way that causes or further escalates tensions on the Korean Peninsula.”
: MOU says it will spend 1.18 billion won ($1.06 million) to build seven video conference facilities for virtual family reunions. Sites include Uijeongbu, Gangneung, Wonju, Cheongju, and Hongseong. Thirteen such centers already exist, mostly in or near Seoul.
: Meeting with Hyundai Group chairperson Hyun Jeong-eun, MOU Lee states his “unwavering … commitment to push ahead with projects like allowing individual tours to Mount Kumgang as soon as the coronavirus situation improves.”
: In the first mention of the Moon-Biden summit in DPRK media, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) carries an article by Kim Myong Chol, a pro-North Korean resident in Japan, headlined: “What Is Aim of Termination of “Missile Guidelines.’” This attacks Moon’s enthusiasm for missile sovereignty as “disgusting” and “indecent.”
: Pressed by opposition lawmakers after initially declining to comment, ROK Defense Minister Suh Wook tells the parliamentary National Defense Committee that Kim Myong Chol’s remarks about President Moon are “rude” and “highly inappropriate.”
: MOU reports to the National Assembly that it will seek to resume inter-Korean dialogue and restore communication links, since the recent Moon-Biden summit has created “sufficient conditions” for this. It will also pursue humanitarian cooperation, such as sending rice and fertilizer.
: An MOU official anonymously briefs reporters that Kim Jong Un’s public activities are on a “downward trend.” The DPRK leader was last seen on May 7. (He will reappear on June 4, after a 29-day absence.)
: Moon Chung-in, former adviser to Moon Jae-in, tells a US-ROK virtual forum that he expects Pyongyang to contact Seoul to get the lowdown on US policy: “It is very likely that North Korea will come. If … not to the United States directly, maybe it will come to South Korea.”
: MOU Lee In-young calls for nonpartisan support for the National Assembly to ratify the Panmunjom Declaration, signed by Kim Jong Un and President Moon at their first summit in April 2018. This would help replace “wasteful political disputes [with] more mature and constructive debate.”
: MOU releases new master plan for 2021-23 on supporting North Korean defectors. Its 24 tasks include strengthening psychological support programs, not least for those at risk of sexual violence or suicide. It notes that defectors’ employment rate fell 3.8% last year amid the pandemic to 54.4%. For ROK-born citizens the fall was only 1%, to 60.4%.
: ROK MOU calls the DPRK’s decision to pull out of World Cup soccer qualifiers due to take place in South Korea next month “disappointing.” Pyongyang cited coronavirus concerns.
: Seoul Western District Court nixes a bid by several conservative organizations to ban publication of Kim Il Sung’s memoirs. The court rules that the plaintiffs “cannot seek an injunction on behalf of other citizens.” An appeal is planned.
: South Korea’s Minister of Unification (MOU) urges North Korea to return to nuclear talks. Lee In-young says that the upcoming summit in Washington between ROK President Moon and US counterpart Joe Biden will be a “big turning point.” Lee makes several further comments in this vein, both before and after the summit; e.g. on May 21, 24.
: Contra a CNN report claiming that Pyongyang has rejected cooperation with the global COVID-19 vaccine distribution program, MOU says: “As far as we know, relevant negotiations are currently under way between the North and the COVAX side.”
: In an article on the brouhaha over publishing Kim Il Sung’s memoirs in South Korea, TheKorea Times’ Nam Hyun-woo notes that, although a rightwing NGO is seeking an injunction to ban the work, the conservative main opposition party is more relaxed. The PPP’s deputy spokesperson Park Ki-nyeong comments: “We should have faith in South Korea’s public awareness and superior system and leave this to the public judgment … No one in this country will sympathize with those who hail Kim Il Sung.” (See also April 21, 22 and 25 above and May 16 below.)
: Seoul Metropolitan Police raid Park San-hak and FFNK’s offices.
: In an article on the brouhaha over publishing Kim Il Sung’s memoirs in South Korea, The Korea Times’ Nam Hyun-woo notes that, although a rightwing NGO is seeking an injunction to ban the work, the conservative main opposition party is more relaxed. PPP Deputy Spokesperson Park Ki-nyeong comments, “We should have faith in South Korea’s public awareness and superior system and leave this to the public judgment … No one in this country will sympathize with those who hail Kim Il-sung.”
: The Seoul Metropolitan Police raid Park San-Hak and FFNK’s offices.
: Chosun Ilbo, a leading conservative Seoul daily, claims that most of the half a million propaganda flyers launched toward North Korea by Park Sang-hak of Fighters for a Free Korea (FFNK) on April 30 landed in the South, due to wind conditions at the time.
: Chosun Ilbo, a leading conservative Seoul daily, claims that most of the half a million propaganda flyers launched toward North Korea by Park Sang-hak on April 30 actually landed in South Korea, due to wind conditions.
: ROK Police Commissioner-General Kim Chang-yong orders a “swift and thorough investigation” to “strictly handle the sending of anti-North Korea leaflets.”
: DPRK website Uriminzokkiri criticizes the controversy in Seoul over publication there of Kim Il Sung’s memoirs: “It is dumbfounded [sic] to see such impure forces’ reckless act to make a fuss as if a huge disaster happened and try to block their publication and distribution in a wicked way.” (See April 21, 22, and 25 in our previous issue, and May 6 and 16 below.)
: ROK’s Korea Football Association (KFA) says its DPRK counterpart has informed the Asian Football Confederation that North Korea will not take part in the much-delayed second round of soccer World Cup qualifiers (Group H) which South Korea will host in June. The North reportedly cited fears of COVID-19. In the first round, held in Pyongyang in October 2019, the two Koreas” ill-tempered match ended in a 0-0 draw.
: ROK Police Commissioner-General Kim Chang-yong orders a “swift and thorough investigation” to “strictly handle the sending of anti-North Korea leaflets.”
: DPRK website Uriminzokkiri criticizes brouhaha in Seoul over publication of Kim Il Sung’s memoirs: “”It is dumbfounded [sic] to see such impure forces’ reckless act to make a fuss as if a huge disaster happened and try to block their publication and distribution in a wicked way.”
: ROK Korea Football Association (KFA) says its DPRK counterpart has informed the Asian Football Confederation that North Korea will not take part in the much-delayed second round of soccer World Cup qualifiers (Group H) which South Korea will host in June. The North reportedly cited fears of COVID-19. In the first round, held in Pyongyang in October 2019, the two Koreas’ ill-tempered match ended in a 0-0 draw.
: DPRK leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, issues a brief but terse statement condemning the latest leaflet launch across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) by defector activists in the ROK. Accusing Seoul of “winking” at the leafleteers, she warns: “[R]esponsibility for the consequences thereof will entirely rest with the south Korean authorities who stopped short of holding proper control of the dirty human scum.”
: Kim Yo Jong issues a brief but terse statement condemning the latest leaflet launch. Accusing Seoul of “winking” at the leafleteers, she warns, “responsibility for the consequences thereof will entirely rest with the south Korean authorities who stopped short of holding proper control of the dirty human scum.”