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Koreas open first 24-hour liaison office

Sept 15,2018
The Koreas opened a liaison office in the North Korean border city of Kaesong on Friday, following through one of the agreements made between both countries’ leaders during their summit in April.

The liaison office will function as a round-the-clock communication channel for the two Koreas. It will oversee contact between the two countries, host meetings and consultations between officials, and support civilians traveling across the border.

South Korean personnel will be stationed at the site 24 hours a day, ready to facilitate dialogue with the North at any time. The two Koreas have never had such a communication office before.

“Today begins a new chapter of history by answering to the wishes of the Korean people and respecting the Panmunjom Declaration,” Cho Myoung-gyon, the unification minister, said in a congratulatory speech, referring to the agreement that South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un signed in April.

Cho expressed hope that the office would become a “cradle for inter-Korean prosperity.”

Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country and Cho’s counterpart in North Korea, said in his speech, “Launching the joint liaison office is the fruitful outcome of inter-Korean cooperation.”

He added that the timing carried significance as the two leaders prepare to meet for a third time in Pyongyang next week.

The South’s vice unification minister, Chun Hae-sung, will be Seoul’s inaugural head for the office. The North has appointed Jon Chong-su, vice chairman of the peaceful reunification committee, to be its representative. Both will conduct weekly meetings as co-heads of the office.

Officials from both Koreas will work in the same four-story building, previously used as the Inter-Korean Economic Cooperation Consultation Office, albeit on different floors, between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There will be officials on duty around the clock. Each side will have 15 to 20 people dispatched to the office.

The office was one of the promises in the Panmunjom Declaration, which says that the two countries will “establish a joint liaison office with resident representatives of both sides” in Kaesong, home to the now shuttered joint industrial complex, in order to “facilitate close consultation” across the border.

The office’s opening, initially scheduled for last month, was delayed amid concerns from Washington about stalled denuclearization talks with Pyongyang.

The Blue House has underscored that the liaison office will not violate any international sanctions on North Korea since all the materials and energy supplies sent to the office will only be used for communication purposes with the North, and said the office would help the denuclearization process along the way.

Despite reported concerns from the United States, the liaison office was launched according to an earlier plan as talks between North Korea and the United States are showing signs of revival. North Korea’s Kim recently asked U.S. President Donald Trump for a second summit, which the White House said it was open to planning.

BY KANG JIN-KYU AND JOINT PRESS CORPS [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]