North Korea is withdrawing from a joint liaison office near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) with South Korea, a symbol of improved relations between the two countries.
The decision follows shortly after the latest U.S. sanctions imposed on two Chinese companies doing business with North Korea, the first move after denuclearization talks between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un fell apart.
According to the South Korean Unification Ministry, which announced the move, the decision was ordered by the North’s “superior authority.” But Pyongyang has allowed Seoul’s representatives to stay “in the office” based on North Korea’s territory near the de facto border between the two Koreas.
The office was established after Chairman Kim met with South Korea’s Moon Jae-in at the DMZ last year, shortly before Kim’s first summit with the U.S. president in Singapore.
CNN informs that in its communication with Seoul, Pyongyang said it would notify the South about “further practical matters in the future.”
The Unification Ministry lamented the development in a statement, calling on the North to return soon and continue the work being done at the liaison office.
“We regard such a withdrawal as very sad and unfortunate (and) we hope that the North will return shortly and hope that the liaison contact office will operate normally as soon as possible,” Vice Minister of Unification Chun Hae-sung said at a press conference in Seoul on Friday, adding that the situations would have to be judged over a period of time.
Although Pyongyang has not yet issued a public statement on the decision, the move was highly expected by some experts due to the failed Hanoi summit between Kim and Trump.
“North Korea’s pull-out Friday from the Kaesong Liason Office has been on cards since Hanoi, given recent no-shows there,” said Chad O’Carroll, an analyst and chief executive of the Korea Risk Group, on Twitter.
He further said that the move was intended to send a message to Seoul that it does not have enough influence on the relationship between the North and the U.S., as well as that intra-Korean talks are increasingly pointless, “when sanctions prevent practical cooperation.”