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Hotline may come out of Cold War

Nov 24,2018
Delegations from the two Koreas met in Kaesong on Friday to discuss the possibility of upgrading the inter-Korean hotline to fiber-optic cables, yanking it out of the copper wire Cold War era.

No specific agreement was announced, however.

“The South and the North met at the South-North Joint Liaison Office in Kaesong to discuss improving the communication lines for the hotline,” the South’s Unification Ministry said in a statement. “The two delegations decided to continue to cooperate on the matter on upgrading the line to fiber-optic cables. We will continue to work out the specifics.”

The idea of upgrading the hotline to fiber-optic cables was mentioned in an inter-Korean meeting in July. Copper-wire cables have a limited bandwidth compared to fiber-optic cables, meaning the speed of data transmission is slower.

The inter-Korean hotline was established in the border village of Panmunjom in September 1971. It was disconnected in February 2016 after the Park Geun-hye administration shut down the jointly-run Kaesong Industrial Complex following Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test the previous month and subsequent long-range rocket launch.

The line was restored in January this year after the two Koreas agreed to cooperate over the North’s participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in February.

Upgrading to fiber-optic cables would require approval from the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee, specifically regarding the expected construction costs and the materials used.

A government insider told the JoongAng Ilbo that it was likely the two delegations did not reach an agreement on Friday because the South wants to abide by UN sanctions in carrying out inter-Korean projects, while the North wants to speed up the process.

“The UN Security Council Sanctions Committee approved the construction work of restoring the military hotline between the two Koreas in July,” said the government insider.

“I think the construction work on upgrading the cable should also be able to gain the committee’s approval. I know that the South Korean government will not step out of line of what the sanctions require in managing projects with the North.”

BY JEONG YONG-SOO, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]