North and South Korea restored their military hot-line in another sign of improving ties, bolstering efforts to reopen their jointly run industrial park shuttered in April at the height of tensions between the nations.
Officials from the two countries spoke today on the hot-line for the first time since March, when the North threatened war against South Korea and the U.S., the South’s Unification Ministry said in a text message. Previously, the line was used to communicate lists of South Korean nationals traveling daily to Gaeseong complex across the heavily armed border.
“The two governments are now talking on an official communications line,” Oh Gyeong Seob, a researcher at the Sejong Institute south of Seoul, said by phone. “This is a positive signal for the resumption of operations at Gaeseong.”
The restoration brightens prospects for the outcome of talks between the two countries scheduled for Sept. 10 at Gaeseong, where they will try to set a date for reopening the factory park. The site was seen as a symbol of reconciliation between the countries until the North pulled out its 53,000 workers in April in protest of South Korean media portrayals of the site as a needed source of hard currency for the Kim Jong Un regime.
In a further sign of rapprochement, South Korea will allow 41 people to travel to Pyongyang on Sept. 10 for a weight-lifting competition, the Unification Ministry said in an emailed statement.
During the competition, North Korea will for the first time allow the South Korean flag to be hoisted and the South Korean anthem to be played in Pyongyang, the ministry said.
The Gaeseong shutdown added to tension in the region after the North conducted its third nuclear test in February and the United Nations, with support of the U.S., toughened its sanctions against the country. Since a preliminary agreement in August to reopen Gaeseong, the two sides also reached an accord to restart reunions of families separated by the Korean War.
The hot-line may be a sign of a thaw in relations between the two Koreas, still ties with the U.S. remain strained after the Syrian military’s use of chemical arms focused attention on North Korean’s production of the weapons.
“There certainly is a long and unsavory history of cooperation between the North Korean government and the Syrian regime,” Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, said at a briefing in Seoul after meeting government officials there.
The Red Cross agencies of the two Koreas operate a communications line in addition to the military hot-line between the governments. That phone line is open only in the daytime, making it difficult for the Koreas to cooperate in dealing with nighttime emergencies.