A Complex problemThe overland border crossing between the two Koreas reopened one day after the North shut it down on Monday, opening the way for South Koreans to travel to and from the Kaesong Industrial Complex. However, the fundamental problem of protecting South Koreans’ safety remains.
We never know when the North will shut down the border, threatening the safety of South Koreans visiting Kaesong. Seoul must do something to resolve the unreasonable situation where the safety of South Korean staff in Kaesong is entirely in the hands of North Korea.
In protest of the South Korea?U.S. joint military Key Resolve drill, the North cut off military communication channels and barred the border crossing. But all Seoul did about this unprecedented situation was to urge the North through the Kaesong Industrial Complex Management Committee to resume cross-border travel.
Because we have no leverage, there is nothing we can do except wait for Pyongyang’s “generosity.” With escalated tensions on the Korean Peninsula, an accidental clash is possible between the two Koreas. If that happens, South Korean workers in Kaesong will become hostages. That’s why the criticism grew that the people’s lives were taken hostage for the Kaesong project.
If the government has reached a decision that it is necessary to continue the Kaesong project because of the symbolic importance of inter-Korean economic cooperation and actual profits, then it needs to develop more concrete measures to protect the safety of South Koreans there. With no such protection, businesses will be unlikely to continue putting workers in harm’s way.
Seoul must establish the principle that it will guarantee under all circumstances that South Korean staff in Kaesong will be protected and brought home. And that principle must be adhered to at all costs.
The inter-Korean agreement on the entry and stay of South Koreans in the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the Mount Kumgang tourist resort, which took effect in 2005, only contained an ambiguous mention of a safety guarantee. The latest incident showed that South Koreans were not actually protected by the agreement.
Rather than just asking the North to sit down for talks, Seoul must propose an official meeting with Pyongyang to go over the South Korean staff safety issue.
Unless it wants the Kaesong project shut down, North Korea must agree to talk about this problem.