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Pressure from abroad led to Kaesong’s closure

Feb 12,2016
Pressure from the United States, Japan, China and Russia forced South Korea to pull the plug on its last surviving economic connection with the North, a senior South Korean official told the JoongAng Ilbo on Thursday.

The Park Geun-hye administration announced Wednesday that it would totally shut down the Kaesong Industrial Complex to punish the North for its fourth nuclear test in January and the launch of a long-range ballistic missile on Sunday. The senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the decision was made after Washington, Tokyo, Beijing and Moscow made strong requests to Seoul to set an example of the kind of punishment suitable.

“When we were discussing international sanctions with other governments after the North’s fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6, opinions were delivered that South Korea must independently and actively act,” the source said. “The United States strongly demanded that the Kaesong Industrial Complex be shut down.”

The Kaesong Industrial Complex, created after the historic summit between the leaders of the two Koreas in June 2000, was considered a cash cow for Pyongyang. It employed nearly 55,000 North Korean laborers at a minimum of $74 a month in wages. In 2015, $120 million in cash was sent to North Korea, and a total of $560 million has been sent so far through Kaesong. According to the source, the Park administration responded reluctantly at first because while shutting down the project might be easy, opening it back up could be difficult. Seoul also reminded Washington that it was the last surviving economic link between the two Koreas.

The United States was adamant, the source said. Washington even suggested resuming tours to Mount Kumgang in North Korea, which have been suspended since the fatal shooting of a South Korean tourist in 2007, in return for shutting down Kaesong.

Another diplomatic source said Japan agreed that the inter-Korean industrial park should be shut.

“Foreign and defense officials from Japan came to Korea at the end of last month and discussed Japan’s independent sanctions on the North,” the official said. “Tokyo said that without shutting down Kaesong, where $120 million was injected last year, sanctions on the North would end up being ineffective and it would be hard to persuade other countries to join any initiative to punish the North.”

China and Russia also wanted South Korea to act first.

“Beijing and Moscow expressed the position that if Seoul truly wants strong sanctions, then it must act first,” another diplomatic source said.

The positions of the key players in the North Korean nuclear game were reported to the Blue House, and President Park made the decision to shut down Kaesong after the North fired the long-range missile.

It remains to be seen if the countries, particularly China and Russia, will impose bilateral sanctions on the North. Japan announced its own sanctions, including entry bans on North Korean citizens. Tokyo praised South Korea’s decision to shut down the Kaesong complex.

Washington also supported Seoul’s move. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel said he understood it was not an easy decision for the South Korean government to take.

“The fact that they made this decision is a compelling indicator of the seriousness with which they regard the provocative steps taken by the [North],” he said.

“It is a decision that’s consistent with the widespread view in the international community that more steps are needed to convince the [North Korean] leadership that it is not going to be possible to have access to the international economic system, let alone economic or financial aid, as long as North Korea continues to pursue nuclear and missile programs in direct contravention of UN Security Council resolutions.”

The U.S. Senate also approved additional sanctions on the North on Wednesday.

In addition to its decision to sever the last surviving link with the North, the South also stepped up efforts to persuade the international community to punish the North. In New York, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se met with U.S., Japanese, Chinese and Russian ambassadors to the United Nations over a breakfast and also held meetings with other diplomats from countries on the UN Security Council on Wednesday, and sought their support for stronger UN sanctions on the North. It was rare for the five countries’ diplomats to sit down to address the North Korea issue without the North because China and Russia have been reluctant to accept such a format.

In the meeting, Yun explained that the decision to shut down the Kaesong complex demonstrates South Korea’s determination to actively participate in the international community’s punishment on the North. He stressed that the anticipated resolution from the UN Security Council must be tough enough to discourage the North from holding yet another nuclear test.

In a meeting with Korean journalists in New York, Yun said the punishment should “exceed the North Korean regime’s expectation.”

He said it is crucial for the concerned countries to issue bilateral sanctions separate from the UN Security Council measures. Citing the sanctions independently imposed by Washington and Tokyo, as well as Seoul’s decision to close Kaesong, Yun said multiple layers of sanctions would improve the effectiveness of the international community’s initiative to end the North’s brinkmanship.

A senior official from the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs said new measures to be taken by each country should focus on drying up the financial resources of the Kim Jong-un regime.

In addition to Japan, U.S. and South Korean actions to cut hard currency inflows to the North, the European Union is also expected to impose sanctions to block cash supplies to the Kim regime, the source said.

Yun will continue his diplomacy on the North at the upcoming Munich Security Conference scheduled from today till Sunday. He is scheduled to meet with his U.S., Chinese and Russian counterparts.

BY KIM HYONG-GU, SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]


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