South Korea plans to lift its decades-long ban on public access to North Korean television, newspapers and other publications as part of its efforts to promote mutual understanding between rivals. officials said on Friday, despite animosities over the North’s recent missile tests.
Divided along the world’s most fortified border since 1948, the two Koreas prohibit their citizens from visiting each other’s territory and from exchanging phone calls, emails and letters, and they block the access to each other’s websites and TV channels.
In a political report to incoming President Yoon Suk-yeol on Friday, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said it would gradually open the door to North Korean broadcasts, media and publications in an attempt to strengthen mutual understanding, restore Korean national identity and to prepare for a future. unification.
Ministry officials said South Korea would begin by allowing access to North Korean broadcasts to try to encourage North Korea to take similar action. The ministry declined to provide further details, saying plans were still being discussed with relevant authorities in South Korea.
Jeon Young-sun, a research professor at Konkuk University in Seoul, said North Korea is unlikely to reciprocate because the flow of South Korean cultural and media content would pose “a really huge threat to” its leadership. authoritarian.
Ruled by three generations of the Kim family since its founding in 1948, North Korea strictly restricts its citizens’ access to outside information, although many defectors have said they watched smuggled South Korean TV programs while they lived in the North.
In 2014, North Korean troops opened fire when South Korean militants launched balloons carrying USB drives containing information about the outside world and leaflets critical of the Kim family into North Korean territory.
Relations between the two Koreas remain strained due to North Korea’s torrid series of missile tests this year. Yoon, a conservative, said he would take a tougher stance on North Korean provocations, although he said he had a ‘bold plan’ to improve the North’s economy if he gave up his guns nuclear.
Despite the North’s likely reluctance to reciprocate, Jeon said South Korea needed to relax its ban on North Korean media as the restrictions have led to a reliance on foreigners and other governments to gather information related to North Korea. Jeon said this increases the risk of acquiring distorted information about North Korea.
It was unclear how anti-North Korea activists in the South would react to the government’s decision. Jeon said the decision was unlikely to promote pro-North Korean sentiments.
South Korea, the 10th largest economy in the world, is a world cultural power. Its nominal gross domestic product in 2019 was 54 times that of North Korea, according to South Korean estimates.
Some observers say the ban should be lifted in a step-by-step process with talks about which North Korean content would be allowed first and how access should be granted to South Korean audiences.
While South Korean authorities block access to North Korean government websites and other media, they rarely crack down on experts, journalists and others who use virtual private networks or proxy servers to access them. to access. A large number of North Korean films, songs and other content are also available on YouTube, accessible in South Korea.