The two Koreas skipped a senior-level weekly meeting for the ninth consecutive week, South Korea’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) said on Friday, even though directors of both countries are reportedly on duty at the inter-Korean liaison office.
North Korea’s director at the office, Jon Jong Su, informed the South Korean side in advance that he would not be able to attend the weekly meeting, deputy MOU spokesperson Lee Eu-gene told a press briefing.
Vice Minister of Unification Chun Hae-sung — South Korea’s liaison office director — nevertheless visited the office on Friday as scheduled to handle pending issues, while North Korean deputy director Kim Kwang Song was also reported to be on duty at the office.
Chun used to regularly hold meetings with deputy director Hwang Chung Song or Kim, who both serve as a department director of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC), if Jon is absent.
The weekly director-level talks did not take place in spite of Kim’s presence at the liaison office.
But the ROK MOU confirmed to NK News on Friday that this is not the first time that Seoul and Pyongyang skipped a weekly meeting, even though North and South directors or Jon’s stand-in are present.
“It has been decided not to hold a director-level meeting (this week), taking account various circumstances based on the agreement between the two Koreas,” Lee told assembled media.
When asked to specify the reasons, Lee said: “my understanding is that they will engage in consultation when arranging agenda topics to be discussed”.
Lee explained that regular inter-Korean contacts, including consultation over the operation, proceeded “normally,” however.
The weekly meeting was not held last Friday as the temporary deputy director Kim Yong Chol — no relation to the country’s powerful vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) — had been stationed at the liaison office.
Monday saw the ROK MOU confirm that the North Korean deputy director returned to Kaesong, however.
While the Koreas failed to hold a director-level meeting after February 22, when Chun and Hwang last held talks, the Moon Jae-in government pushed forward independently planned events to mark the first anniversary of the Panmunjom Declaration.
Seoul is set to hold a “peace performance” event on Saturday — to commemorate the date South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed the Panmunjom Declaration — in the truce village of Panmunjom.
With the topic described as the “long road,” artists from China, Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. will stage culture and art performances with the attendance of approximately 500 persons.
The event was organized to “celebrate the first anniversary of the Panmunjom Declaration and to wish the settlement of permanent peace on the Korean peninsula,” the MOU said in a written statement on Monday.
“We hope that it will serve as a meaningful venue where our people and people around the world can ruminate over the impression of the inter-Korean summit of April 27 in Panmunjom…” the statement added.
Although the South notified the North of the commemorative event on Monday afternoon during a regular contact at the joint liaison office, there has been no response since then, deputy spokesperson Lee said on Friday.
When asked about attendance from the North Korean side, Lee said there were “low chances,” adding that the MOU was refraining from “making a prejudgement.”
The commemorative event comes amid Pyongyang on Thursday denouncing Seoul for conducting a scaled-back alternative to canceled Max Thunder air combat training exercises, through the CPRC spokesperson’s press statement.
This has implications given that this appears to be the first comment attributed to the CPRC or to a CPRC official since May 2018, when the DPRK criticized Max Thunder training and postponed high-level talks in CPRC Chairman Ri Son Gwon’s “answer” to a KCNA reporter.
But during Friday’s press briefing, Lee said Pyongyang had not raised the remarks made by the CPRC spokesperson’s press statement through the inter-Korean communications channel.
On the eve of the first anniversary, President Moon meanwhile visited a “DMZ Peace Road” walking trail in Goseong county that’s scheduled to be opened the following day, the Blue House said in a written statement.
The South Korean government on April 3 announced a plan to operate one of three “peace and security”-themed walking trails connected to the DMZ.
Among them, Seoul is set to commence a tourism trail in Goseong on a trial basis, marking the one year anniversary of the Panmunjom Declaration.
On the same day Moon was also briefed on the Gangwon Province’s vision to achieve peace-driven economic growth at the Goseong DMZ Museum.
In a separate statement, the ROK presidential office said Moon called on the central and provincial governments to work together to lay the foundation for an “inter-Korean economic cooperation community” which will be later detailed at the briefing.
As part of their efforts to realize a peace-driven economy, the ROK President also promised on Friday to reopen Mount Kumgang tourism, explaining that Gangwon Province is the area which could benefit the most if peace leads to economic development.
“Through tourism on Mount Kumgang, Gangwon Province already experienced that peace can drive economic growth,” Moon said. “We will continuously strive to resume Mount Kumgang Tourism expeditiously.”
In his symbolic speech marking the March 1 independence movement, Moon said he would have a consultation with Washington over ways to reopen Mount Kumgang resort and the KIC.
September’s Pyongyang Joint Declaration saw Seoul and Pyongyang agree to normalize cooperation at the Mount Kumgang resort and the KIC as a matter of priority, should “conditions mature.”
Edited by Chad O’Carroll
Featured Image: Joint Press Corps
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