SEOUL • The inter-Korean liaison office that Pyongyang blew up yesterday was opened in September 2018 as part of an agreement that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in signed at their first summit five months earlier.
The office occupied a four-storey building in an industrial zone in the North’s city of Kaesong, where firms from South Korea employed their counterparts from the North, paying Pyongyang for their labour.
It was the first permanent physical communication centre for the two sides, with personnel from the North and South staying at the compound to enable face-to-face contact at any time. Around 20 officials from each side were based there, headed by an appointee of vice-minister level.
The South’s officials occupied the second floor, with the North’s representatives on the top level and meeting rooms in between.
When it opened, a rapid diplomatic rapprochement was in full swing, with Mr Kim and Mr Moon about to hold their third summit in the wake of Mr Kim’s historic meeting with US President Donald Trump in Singapore in June 2018.
At the time, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said it would become a “round-the-clock consultation and communication channel” for advancing inter-Korean relations, improving ties between the United States and the North, and easing military tensions.
The office was open five days a week, with officials on standby on weekends.
But inter-Korean ties entered a deep freeze following the collapse of the Hanoi summit between Mr Kim and Mr Trump in February last year, and operations at the office were suspended in January because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Kaesong, site of the liaison office, was initially part of the South after Moscow and Washington divided the Korean peninsula between them in the closing days of World War II, but found itself in the North after the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty.
The joint industrial zone was set up in 2004, under the presidency of the liberal Mr Roh Moo-hyun in the South.
But the South’s president Park Geun-hye shuttered it in 2016, in response to the North’s nuclear and missile tests, saying profits generated from it were linked to Pyongyang’s weapons development.