Stop fiddling with KaesongNorth Korea blocked South Korean workers’ entry into the Kaesong Industrial Complex yesterday. Though it stopped short of prohibiting South Korean workers’ exit from the last-remaining symbol of inter-Korean economic cooperation, many of them couldn’t return to the South. They had to make sure orders would be made on time and they worried about whether they would be able to return. North Korea made the decision because its pride was critically hurt after South Korean media reported that it cannot shut down the complex and give up the foreign currency its workers bring to Pyongyang for their labor.
But this is not the first time. North Korea did the same in 2009 when South Korea and the United States conducted the Key Resolve drill, a joint military exercise between the two allies. With the latest decision, however, Pyongyang has made clear that it will take the compound hostage any time and at its discretion. It is utterly deplorable that the North opts to destroy the last bastion of South-North exchanges despite Seoul’s efforts to keep it open even after the North’s attacks on our Cheonan warship and Yeonpyeong Island on the tense maritime border in the Yellow Sea.
The North Korean military strongly opposed the establishment of the industrial complex as they had to pull back troops from the western front. But the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il arduously persuaded his top brass to accept the idea of setting up a symbolic foundation for better relations. The trajectory of the compound’s performance is living proof of economic cooperation. 123 South Korean companies have been manufacturing various products thanks to the cheap labor of 53,000 North Korean workers. That contributed to the stabilization of inter-Korean relations at times of crisis.
We urge Pyongyang to change its mind. All the mutual benefits from the complex in economic, political and symbolic terms will vanish sooner or later if the North repeatedly uses it as a political tool. If South Korean workers’ safety is threatened or their business activities are constrained, it will cause irrevocable damage to both sides.
Pyongyang has been ratcheting up tension on the Korean Peninsula by all available means - including nuclear threats against South Korea and even the U.S. The North’s intention to reactivate the defunct nuclear reactor at Yongbyon is an outrageous declaration against all international agreements, including the Sept. 19, 2005 Joint Declaration. There is nothing it can gain by raising tensions here. If it chooses to cross the line, it will bring about a catastrophe in the North.
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