|Vice Unification Minister Suh Ho, third from right, takes a look at the inter-Korean liaison office in the North Korean border city of Gaeseong on June 14. Yonhap|
By Lee Min-hyung
Ahead of the first anniversary of the joint communication office in the North Korean border city of Gaeseong, skepticism is rising about its effectiveness in promoting communication between the two Koreas.
The inter-Korean liaison office opened Sept. 14, 2018, with much fanfare amid thawing relations between Seoul and Pyongyang, but the symbolic channel of communication ended up being only half successful in terms of advancing bilateral relations.
By the time the office was established, expectations were the office would serve as a de facto embassy helping the two Koreas enhance their exchanges, thereby building a sustainable mood for inter-Korean reconciliation.
The purpose of its establishment was noteworthy, as the office was aimed primarily at fostering peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Despite the initial expectations, the office has so far failed to generate any outstanding or tangible outcomes amid weakening inter-Korean relations this year in the wake of the breakdown of the Hanoi summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Since last year, the North has taken political advantage of the South in its pursuit of a better nuclear deal with the U.S.
The South Korean government, acting as a mediator in talks between Trump and Kim, made an effort to arrange the historic Singapore summit between the two unpredictable leaders in June last year.
Against that backdrop, the young dictator of the North also tried to develop a reconciliatory relationship with South Korean President Moon Jae-in by holding three summits with him last year.
But following the Hanoi fiasco, the purpose of the office's existence has become vague.
The two Koreas agreed to hold a weekly meeting between chiefs of each side at the office. But Jon Jong-su, the North Korean director at the office, stopped attending the weekly meeting with his South Korean counterpart ever since the Hanoi fiasco.
This March, the North even withdrew its official from the office without notifying South Korea in advance, in what critics said was a political move to protest intensifying pressure from the U.S. at the time. The U.S. had imposed a series of new sanctions against the North amid their worsening relations due to the summit breakdown.
On Tuesday, Vice Unification Minister Suh Ho visited the inter-Korean liaison office to encourage South Korean officials there in commemoration of the office's upcoming first-year anniversary. The ministry planned to hold a joint celebratory event with the North, but Pyongyang declined to respond to the South's proposal.
"The unification ministry decided not to hold any joint events with the North in consideration of the current political circumstances," an official from the ministry said.