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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
Seoul and Pyongyang on Friday began operation of a joint liaison office at the DPRK’s now-shuttered Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC).
At an opening ceremony, ROK Minister of Unification Cho Myoung-gyon said the liaison office, which will house resident representatives from Seoul and Pyongyang, would serve as a “cradle for the co-prosperity” of the two Koreas.
“I hope South and North Korean authorities and experts can discuss a variety of discussions in the field of railways, roads, forestry, and other issues, and push forward joint research on the implementation of the October 4 Declaration and new economic initiatives.”
In his speech, Cho said the office will be a “channel for round-the-clock communication between the two Koreas.”
“From today, South and North Korea can directly discuss issues related to the improvement of inter-Korean relations and peace and prosperity of the Korean peninsula, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
North and South Korea are set to use the office to exchange contacts, hold working-level consultations, and support exchanges, cooperation, and joint events in numerous fields, an inter-Korean agreement read.
The liaison office will also see both sides support exchange and cooperation projects run by private organizations, providing consultations as well as guaranteeing the convenience of people who cross the inter-Korean border.
The South Korean unification minister and Chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC) of the DPRK Ri Son Gwon signed an agreement on the composition and operation of the office on Friday.
Ri Son Gwon at the meeting stressed the “significance” of opening the joint liaison office just days ahead of a planned fifth inter-Korean summit, according to a joint press pool.
Both sides would be able used the facility to hold “open-minded discussions on issues raised in inter-Korean relations as soon as possible and come up with necessary solutions,” he added.
“The name of the North-South joint liaison office is nice words, but it sums up our nation’s ardent desire for a new turning point in the development of the North-South relations.”
Ri said the liaison office would “greatly contribute to improving inter-Korean relations and opening up a new era of peace and prosperity,” while also urging the South to “accelerate the implementation of the Panmunjom Declaration.”
Friday saw chairman and vice chairman of the corporate association of the Kaesong Industrial Complex Shin Han-yong and Chung Ki-sup, as well as senior officials from the Kaesong Industrial District Foundation, visit the complex for the opening ceremony.
In an interview with pool reporters, Shin said he had not been allowed to visit factories at the site, though added that he believed the facilities are “comparatively well-managed.”
Vice-chairman of the CPRC Pak Yong Il, vice-minister of land and environmental protection Pak Ho Yong, vice-minister of Physical Culture and Sports Won Kil U, and vice-chairman of the National Economic Cooperation Committee Pak Myong Chol were also present at the event.
South Korean Vice-Minister of Unification Chun Hae-sung and vice-chairman of the CPRC Jon Jong Su have been appointed directors of the office.
The two will hold weekly meetings, the inter-Korean agreement said, with additional talks possible if needed.
Wednesday saw the unification ministry say the directors would be able to convey messages between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “if necessary.”
In accordance with the agreement signed Friday, both sides will deploy a group of 15 to 20 staff to the office, which will be open between 0900 and 1700 local time.
Meanwhile, the two Koreas kicked off working-level talks at the truce village of Panmunjom Friday morning to discuss protocol, security, communications, and media coverage of next week’s summit.
South Korean director of presidential National Security Office (NSO) Chung Eui-yong early this week announced the talks would be held, following a visit to Pyongyang by a presidential special delegation.
The talks were initially postponed, however.
The four-member delegation to Friday’s meeting is composed of four officials: second deputy director of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) Kim Sang-gyun, Director of the Government Situation room at the Blue House Youn Kun-young, director of presidential press center Kwun Hyun-li, and director of presidential security service Choi Byeong-il.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Joint Press Corps