Aide makes surprise trip to Kaesong to bolster ties

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Aide makes surprise trip to Kaesong to bolster ties

A close aide of South Korea’s Unification Minister made an unannounced visit to the North, raising expectations of a thawing in frozen inter-Korean relations.

Cha Se-hyeon, 41, a policy-setting aide of Minister Yu Woo-ik, visited the Kaesong Industrial Complex on Tuesday and Wednesday, he told the JoongAng Ilbo on Wednesday. As a close confidant, Cha has assisted the minister since he was Chief of Staff at the Blue House.

On the surface, Cha said he made the visit “to figure out how to revitalize the Kaesong Industrial Complex.” He submitted an application to North Korea’s Central Special Development Guidance Bureau two weeks prior and the bureau authorized the application.

“The number of North Korean workers has exceeded 50,000 in the Kaesong Industrial Complex so the North Korean regime has high interest in the complex,” Cha said. “We just listened to the difficulties of [South Korean] companies in the complex.”

Cha told the JoongAng Ilbo that he merely examined the current situation in the complex, following the minister’s attempt to soften May 24 sanctions against the North, which suspends all aid to the reclusive neighbor in the wake of the sinking of the Cheonan battleship.

Since Yu was appointed as the minister, he has directed his efforts at resuming the stalled business in the cross-border area, restarting suspended construction, repairing roads for commuters, building a fire station and an emergency hospital and expanding bus routes for commuters.

In some quarters the move is being called the first step in softening the South Korean government’s hard-line policies against the North, since President Lee Myung-bak mentioned in his New Year’s statement that the South should “keep open the window of opportunity for better relations” with the North.


By Lee Won-jean [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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