Workers at Kaesong are warming up to each other

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Workers at Kaesong are warming up to each other


North Korean workers at the industrial park jointly operated by the two Koreas have softened their views on the South, a Seoul official said, indicating growing social exchanges despite lingering political tensions on the divided peninsula.

More than 50,000 North Koreans work at the complex located in the North’s border city of Kaesong, producing clothes, utensils and other goods for the 123 South Korean companies operating there. The factory park opened in 2004 amid efforts toward reconciliation following the first inter-Korean summit in 2000.

The Kaesong park was kept intact even through recent years of inter-Korean hostility stemming from Seoul’s toughened policy on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program and the North’s two deadly attacks on the South in 2010.

Speaking to a civic group in Seoul earlier this week, Suh Ho, a Unification Ministry official handling inter-Korean cooperation, said North Koreans at the Kaesong park now exchange nods and share snacks with their South Korean co-workers. In the past, it was common for the North Koreans to avoid eye contact and look away, he said. The two sides are also able to discuss work-related issues, whereas before, the North Koreans were hostile about taking orders from the South Koreans, he said.

“Judging from the North’s attitude, it appears that the Kaesong complex will be managed smoothly even under the leadership of Kim Jong-un,” Suh said, referring to the communist nation’s new leader, who has so far continued the policies of his late father, strongman Kim Jong-il.

North Korean workers voluntarily work more hours now, in contrast to their earlier complaints about alleged exploitation, and admire the production capacity and product quality of South Korean firms, the official said. The factory park serves as a key legitimate cash cow for the impoverished communist country.

Still, there is a long way to go before North Korea shows a fundamental and sincere change in attitude and makes efforts toward economic reform, Suh said. On Friday, a group of eight South Korean lawmakers visited the Kaesong complex in what could be seen as the North’s partial softening of its stance toward its rival. The Koreas are in a technical state of war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. Yonhap
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