Nothing says “we’re serious about this” like a fax. Or at least that’s what officials in Pyongyang seem to think. Yesterday morning, South Korean officials received a fax that warned, ironically, of attacks “without warning”. I guess the first one was a freebie.
The ominous message was sparked by protests in Seoul on the second anniversary of Kim Jong-il’s death. The Wall Street Journal spoke to a South Korean ministry spokesman who reported the missive’s contents, which came in reaction to “extra-large provocations to North Korea’s highest dignity taking place in the middle of Seoul.” South Korea should beware “resolute punishment”and “a merciless retaliation without warning”.
Protestors in Seoul this week. Image: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images.
Doesn’t a fax count as warning? Well, sort of. It turns out that North and South Korea don’t ever email with each other. Instead, they rely on three ways of communicating: A physical letter exchange point at the border, a phone line that’s routinely disconnected during times of high tension, and the fax machine. The last time a fax like this made news was earlier this year, when North Korean officials sent a fax blaming South Korea for the closure of jointly-run factories along the border.
So the fax machine seems to a serve as a stand-in internet; a way to relay information quickly and, in many cases, make sure the public sees it. As a result, most timely or important messages between the two countries are delivered through a dying technology, whose heyday peaked decades ago — the only mode of communication both sides can agree upon. [Wall Street Journal; QZ]