Keep Kaesong goingNorth Korea finally made a move after expressing discontent about the Lee Myung-bak administration’s North Korea policy. The North demanded that all South Korean officials working at the Inter-Korean Exchanges and Cooperation Consultation Office in the Kaesong Industrial Complex leave. With this demand, 11 South Korean officials dispatched by the Ministry of Unification and the Ministry of Strategy and Finance left the joint office early Thursday morning.
The North cited Unification Minister Kim Ha-jung’s remark as the reason for the demand. Kim had said that unless North Korea’s nuclear issue is resolved, it will be difficult to expand the Kaesong Industrial Complex. The North’s intention, however, seems to be to take the upper hand in inter-Korean relations by putting pressure on the new South Korean administration. The North probably wants to impact the upcoming South Korean legislative elections. The new administration’s stance is that it is hard to improve inter-Korean ties if the North Korean nuclear issue is not resolved. It decided to cast a favorable vote to expand the term of the special rapporteur for North Korean human rights of the United Nations Human Rights Council, putting more pressure on North Korea for its human rights violations. North Korea revealed discontent about this by expelling South Korean officials in an attempt to display its power and determination.
The South must keep on track, remaining resolute and firm, instead of making a counter-move to every North Korean measure. The South Korean people must understand that if the government responds sensitively to North Korea’s every act or becomes excessively nervous, that is exactly what the North wants.
The Kaesong Industrial Complex is the symbol of economic exchange and cooperation between the South and North. At the 69 companies that are now operating inside the complex, 23,000 North Korean citizens are employed.
Even if the expansion of the complex depends on the progress of North Korea’s nuclear issue, the existing businesses must keep going. North Korea demanded that South Korean officials leave but allowed other South Koreans from the private sector to remain. That is probably because the North needs the Kaesong Industrial Complex as well. The South must not put existing businesses in trouble by stirring up the North with unnecessary remarks. The South Korean government can talk gently while implementing its policy faithfully.