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SEOUL/WASHINGTON: South Korea halted the propaganda broadcasts it blares across the border at North Korea on Monday ahead of the first inter-Korean summit in a decade, as U.S. President Donald Trump cautioned the nuclear crisis on the peninsula was a long way from being resolved.
North and South Korea are in the final stages of preparations for a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-In at the border truce village of Panmunjom on Friday.
"We hope this decision will lead both Koreas to stop mutual criticism and propaganda against each other and also contribute in creating peace and a new beginning," the South Korean defence ministry said about the decision to halt the broadcasts.
North Korea has its own propaganda loudspeakers at the border, but a defence ministry official said he could not verify whether the North had stopped its broadcasts. In February, the North lowered the volume of its border propaganda after the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in South Korea's Pyeongchang.
The propaganda broadcasts were stopped at midnight, the defence ministry said, without specifying whether they would resume after the Kim-Moon summit.
It is the first time in more than two years the South Korean broadcasts, which include a mixture of news, South Korean pop music and criticism of the North Korean regime, have been stopped. Broadcasts were halted in mid-2015 only to be restarted in January 2016 following North Korea's fourth nuclear test. Pyongyang has conducted two more nuclear tests since then.
The inter-Korean talks and a planned meeting between Kim and Trump in the coming weeks, have raised hopes of an easing in tensions that reached a crescendo last year amid a flurry of North Korean missile tests and its largest nuclear test.
On Saturday, North Korea pledged to halt nuclear and missile tests and said it was scrapping its nuclear test site to instead pursue economic growth and peace.
After initially welcoming the statement, Trump sounded a more cautious note on Sunday.
"We are a long way from conclusion on North Korea, maybe things will work out, and maybe they won’t - only time will tell," Trump said on Twitter.
Still, South Korean companies with exposure to North Korea rallied after Pyongyang's weekend announcement.
Shares of Good People and Shinwon Corp, which used to operate factories in North Korea's Kaesong industrial region near the Demilitarized Zone, surged 8 percent and 15 percent, respectively.
China, North Korea's main ally, also welcomed the North Korean announcement, but editorials in state-run media on Monday were tempered with notes of caution.
The China Daily, the official English-languages newspaper of the Chinese government, said the pledges conveyed the message that Kim will sit down for talks as the leader of a legitimate nuclear power.
"Negotiations about actual nuclear disarmament will likely prove arduous given such weapons are critical to Pyongyang's sense of security. It will require ironclad security guarantees if it is to relinquish them."
The Global Times, a hawkish tabloid newspaper run by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, said all parties "should cherish this hard-won state of affairs" and continue to make efforts towards peace and denuclearisation.
"Washington should not regard North Korea's halt to nuclear and missile tests as a result of its maximum pressure," the Global Times wrote.
"It must be attributed to multiple factors, one of which is that Pyongyang has mastered certain advanced nuclear technologies and successfully launched an intercontinental ballistic missile with a range of more than 10,000 km."