Another storm in KaesongHolding South Korea responsible for strained inter-Korean relations, North Korea recently said it would withdraw “special benefits” accorded the Kaesong Industrial Complex. The North’s message is that the complex may be shut down.
The complex is a leading symbol of Korean reconciliation and cooperation, a project that, through difficult times, the two Koreas have built, maintained and developed with mutual concessions. For South Korea, companies that were leaving China and other countries were able to find new footing in Kaesong, while North Korea earned much needed foreign currency and created jobs there.
If the North’s motivation had been based on purely economic interest in withdrawing benefits, we could persuade them on grounds that they are being shortsighted. But the problem is the North is taking a political approach by passing the buck to the South for worsening inter-Korean relations. Given that politics takes priority over other matters in the North Korean system, it may be difficult to reach a compromise on the North’s demand.
But we must not be the first to give up on Kaesong. There never has been a quiet moment in our dealings with North Korea. And Kaesong, which has weathered many storms over the years, will be the last fortress that keeps inter-Korean relations from reaching the point of no return. That is why the South Korean government must act with wisdom and patience.
While the Lee Myung-bak administration was caught up in “Denuclearization, Openness, 3000,” an empty slogan carried over from the presidential campaign, inter-Korean relations nose-dived. Of course, it’s not entirely the South Korean government’s fault that relations have reached this point. It may be in larger part due to North Korea’s misguided attempts to maintain its regime by threatening neighboring states with nuclear weapons and missiles.
North Korea is a state whose political ideology and system is the opposite of the South’s, and the two Koreas were at war that killed millions. But we are still separated only by the military demarcation line, our people are of the same ethnicity, and the North is bound to have a huge impact on the South’s present and future.
The South Korean government’s policy on the North is way too simple and one-sided, not fit for a partner of the North’s magnitude. Under any situation, we need a policy that preserves peace on the Korean Peninsula and increases prospects for unification at the same time. We urge the South Korean government to think and try harder to prepare a North Korea policy supported by the people.