Seoul lifts ban on North Korean press and television

In a statement to new South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol on Friday, the Unification Ministry said it would gradually open the door to the North’s press and television to restore Korean identity and prepare for the peninsula’s future unification.

South Korea will allow access to North Korean television broadcasts in an effort to encourage the Pyongyang regime to take similar measures, ministry officials said.

The ministry declined to provide further details, saying the plans were still being discussed.

Separated by the world’s most heavily fortified border since 1948, the countries prevent their citizens from traveling to the rival’s territory, as well as exchanging phone calls, emails or letters, and block access to each other’s websites and television stations.

Jeon Young-sun, a professor at Konguk University in the South Korean capital Seoul, said North Korean exchange was unlikely because the flow of South Korean cultural content would pose a “really huge threat” to Pyongyang’s authoritarian leadership.

North Korea, ruled by three generations of the Kim family since its founding in 1948, prevents citizens from accessing information from abroad.

In 2014, North Korean troops opened fire when South Korean troops launched balloons with external disks, which contained information about the outside world and pamphlets critical of the Kim family, toward the North.

Despite Pyongyang’s reluctance, Jeon Young-sun said South Korea should ease the ban because the restrictions have led to foreign credibility in intelligence gathering about North Korea, raising the risk of a tarnished image from North Korea to Seoul.

Jeon said he hoped the move would not encourage pro-Pyongyang sentiments in the South.

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Relations between the two Koreas have been strained by a record number of missile tests – more than 20 – carried out by the North this year.

New South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, a conservative, has said he will take a tough line on Pyongyang, although he said he has “an ambitious plan” to boost the North’s economy if Kim Jong-un’s regime gives up its nuclear weapons.

Seoul and Washington believe that Pyongyang has been preparing for weeks to conduct its first nuclear test since 2017, and that its execution rests solely on an order from Kim Jong-un.

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