North Korean media over the weekend criticized the South for “begging” Washington for U.S. “approval” on matters concerning inter-Korean tourism, referring to the recent U.S.-ROK working group talks and a Blue House official’s visit to the U.S.
In what appears to be North Korean media’s first-ever reaction on the Moon administration’s push for “independent tourism” this year, DPRK Today, an externally-focused media outlet, slammed Seoul for “mooching off the foreign power” when inter-Korean problems should be solved between the two Koreas.
“It is the Koreans that have the biggest stake in, and the ability to solve… the problem of inter-Korean relations,” the article said on Sunday.
The DPRK Today article directly referred to a South Korean Blue House official’s February 5 visit to Washington and U.S. State Department official Alex Wong’s visit to Seoul on February 10 for a working group meeting with the South’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA).
It said that inter-Korean problems “will not be solved” by South Korean officials visiting the U.S., which it described as a country that “meddles and interrupts in the problems between the Korean people.”
While on February 10 Seoul’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) spokesperson Yoh Sankey said that the U.S-ROK working group was for “explaining our government’s position [regarding tourism], in terms of cooperation with the U.S. side,” the DPRK Today article maintained that this was still a move “dependent on foreign powers.”
The South Korean government’s stance on “independent tourism” has “remained consistent,” Yoh said on Monday at a regular MOU press briefing, adding the ministry has no comment on the DPRK Today article.
While the article did not add any criticism towards the U.S., another externally-focused DPRK website Uriminzokkiri on Monday criticized the South Korean defense ministry’s decision to participate in the “joint military exercises… led by the U.S.”
North Korea has long been denouncing South Korea and the U.S. for their joint military drills, dubbing them as part of “hostile policy” towards the North.
Inter-Korean relations have soured in the past year amid stalled U.S.-DPRK denuclearization talks, with Kim Jong Un order to remove South Korean facilities at the once joint North-South-run Mount Kumgang resort.
North Korea, however, requested the demolition be halted amid the recent COVID-19 threat — and the joint liaison office in the city of Kaesong was also temporarily shut down until the threat of the globally spreading virus is resolved.
The MOU spokesman said on Monday that, despite the shut-down, the Seoul-Pyongyang liaison phone line is tested “twice a day.”
Meanwhile, the MOU also said that Pyongyang has not responded yet to the South Korean business people’s letter asking the North to consider reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex, after the South verbally conveyed the message to the North through “Kaesong liaison channel.”
While North Korea appears to continue giving Seoul the cold shoulder, some experts saw DPRK Today‘s criticism of South Korea’s “begging” the U.S. for inter-Korean tourism approval is a good sign.
“The message North Korea is delivering to the South through DPRK Today is clear,” Cheong Seong-Chang of the Sejong Institute told NK News.
“North Korea is telling the South that Seoul should discuss the issue of independent tourism directly with Pyongyang, not the U.S., by utilizing the DPRK Today website, which the South Korean government check daily but is less conspicuous than the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) or Uriminzokkiri,” he explained.
“Right now, COVID-19 makes the situation difficult for the South and the North to discuss the issue of independent tourism in detail. But with the virus making tourism with China difficult, bringing a foreign currency crisis, it seems that North Korea can only positively review Seoul’s call for independent inter-Korean tourism.”
Jeong Se-hyun, former Unification Minister, also says that the article is North Korea’s “whistle” for the South, signaling Seoul to come to the table to discuss inter-Korean tourism.
“While they have pronounced a ‘new way’ and talked big about self-reliance, COVID-19 seems to be making the North’s situation difficult,” Jeong told a Korean radio program on TBS on Monday.
Under such circumstances, North Korea “brought up the issue of ‘independent tourism’ out of the blue,” he said.
“North Korea is whistling [South Korea] to come out, saying that the issue of inter-Korean independent tourism is not an issue that will be solved by talking to the U.S.”
Edited by James Fretwell