[Viewpoint] A measured approach to the North

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[Viewpoint] A measured approach to the North

North Korea unilaterally declared invalid all contracts and regulations covering the Kaesong Industrial Complex, putting the joint inter-Korean business project on a precipice.

The statement was released right after South Korea proposed an inter-Korean executive meeting last Friday.

The North’s pattern of aggression and brinkmanship is in evidence once again.

It began criticizing the South two months after the Lee Myung-bak administration was inaugurated in February last year.

It launched a rocket three moths after the inauguration of United States President Barack Obama this year, despite widespread expressions of concern from the international community.

We understand why North Korea has been driven to take this road. It is desperate to realize its grand vision of becoming an economic power by 2012.

However, the North’s unilateral declaration about the Kaesong complex, in addition to its unfair detention of a Hyundai Asan employee, is wrong and will have harmful effects on its goal of achieving economic prosperity in the long term.

As of April 2009, there are 104 South Korean companies operating in the Kaesong complex, with 38,000 North Korean workers.

The complex has the potential to help the ailing North to succeed in overcoming its economic difficulties. But the North is being unreasonable in resolutely carrying on in the opposite direction, despite its challenging economic situation.

It is highly likely the North is trying to play a game of chicken with the South so as to secure concessions from the South Korean government.

The North is forcing the South to play this game, and seems to be holding the keys to resolution of the Kaesong issue and the issue involving the detained Hyundai Asan employee.

Thus puts the South in quite a complex situation, to say the least.

In this context, the North seems determined to define the issue of the Hyundai Asan employee from a political perspective, while attempting to separate it from the Kaesong Industrial Complex issue.

We should put more of our efforts into resolving the impasse over the Kaesong complex so as to minimize the damage from this latest game from the North.

At the same time, we have to give serious consideration to how we are going to approach these two problems. And the most pressing dilemma is whether we should tackle each issue individually or work them out in tandem.

Working out both issues at once does have its benefits. Binding the issue of the Kaesong complex to the issue of the detained Hyundai Asan employee could generate a ripple effect.

It could thereby allow for the creation of a new “setting” in which the issue involving the detained Hyundai Asan employee can be resolved.

In any case, the decision should be based on the following awareness of reality.

First, as the North has defined the detention of a South Korean worker as a political issue, it has become more difficult to resolve the problem in the same way as one would the issue of the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

Second, the government must deal responsibly with resolving the issue of the detained South Korean worker, because the protection of citizens is one of the government’s basic responsibilities.

Third, principles and precedents for amending, complementing and abolishing agreements related to the Kaesong complex project should be established through negotiations.

The question, then, is how to establish this new setting and how to encourage the North to join the game.

We could dispatch a special envoy to resolve the issue or propose a Red Cross meeting. For the North, the latter is likely to be the less attractive of the two. For the South, it is an excellent opportunity to show how serious we are about succeeding.

In conclusion, we should bear in mind that the choices and decisions made by the people working within the Kaesong Industrial Complex should be given a higher degree of respect than anything else.

They should even be put above the desires of the governments of either of the two Koreas.

We are on the edge of a cliff, and as in all such similar situations, a dramatic resolution is called for. We should never give up our dream.

*The writer is a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Strategy. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Ki-dong
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