South Korea's speaker array, located at a military base near its border with the North. The South Korean Ministry of Defense announced on Monday it would cease propagandistic broadcasts of K-pop and other audio.
Ahead of a summit scheduled for Friday between the leaders of South and North Korea, Seoul says it is no longer blasting pop music toward its northerly neighbor.
The South Korean Defense Ministry announced the move Monday, saying it aims "to establish the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula" and to reach a peace settlement and "a new beginning" between the countries.
The speakers started blasting news and other propaganda on the inter-Korean border back in the 1960s, but in recent years Seoul added the hugely popular K-pop music to the audio arsenal.
"We do this so that North Koreans can learn that the world is changing," the New York Times reported Kim Min-seok, a Defense Ministry spokesman, as saying in 2015. "We believe this helps significantly improve human rights of the North."
The North also attempted its own counter-broadcast, but lacked enough amplification for those messages to be heard by South Koreans near the demilitarized zone between the rival countries, the Times noted.
In August 2015, the South agreed to suspend its broadcasts after the North cited the sonic assault as a war-like provocation. However, the South resumed its sound barrage in January 2016 after the North claimed to have conducted a nuclear test.
Today's K-pop-detente comes amid a rapid thaw of relations between North and South Korea, arriving three weeks after South Korea sent a musical delegation to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, where a concert was staged for Kim Jong Un and other party dignitaries. North Korean state media reported Kim being "deeply moved" by the concert and as having taken a keen interest in the K-pop girl group Red Velvet. As Wendy Sherman, a former U.S. undersecretary of state, told Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep on Monday: "I think they're thinking about a North-South reunification."
Central to these quick diplomatic developments is the international community's desire to see North Korea agree to a program of denuclearization; this past Friday, the country announced it would cease its testing program, though experts are taking the news with a grain of salt. As Robert Kelly, a professor at Pusan National University in South Korea, told NPR's Elise Hu: "We're gonna have to see things actually being sawed in half or cut in half or detonated before people are gonna actually believe it." In a tweet, President Trump called the announcement "progress for all."
A summit between President Trump and Supreme Leader Kim is said to be in the planning for June — it would be the first meeting of the two countries' leaders since the totalitarian Democratic People's Republic of Korea was officially established in 1948. Ahead of that historic sit-down, earlier this month, current CIA Director and prospective Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met in secret with Kim Jong Un, after which Trump said that "a good relationship was formed." It was the highest-level contact between the U.S. and North Korea since former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's visit to the country in 2000.