Normalize the joint industrial parkToday marks the 19th day since North Korea blocked South Korean workers’ entry into the Kaesong Industrial Complex - the last-remaining symbol of inter-Korean economic cooperation - and the 10th day since 53,000 North Korean workers pulled out from the park. Pyongyang’s decision prolongs a dangerous suspension of profitable operation of the nine-year-old complex.
North Korean authorities have once again refused to accept South Korean entrepreneurs’ requests for visits to the complex. As a result, the number of South Korean staff remaining at the complex shrunk to 190 last weekend, only about one-fifth the regular number.
They may have no other choice but to return to the South soon due to a critical lack of food and fuel unless both sides find a breakthrough amid heightened tensions.
However, North Korea still resorts to capitalizing on the complex as a means to put more pressure on South Korea. Last week, Pyongyang issued a long statement rationalizing its suspension after denouncing our government’s proposal for dialogue to normalize operations as simply a “cunning offer.” North Korea even said that it is the South, not the North, which benefits most from the joint ventures in Kaesong. In the statement, Pyongyang went so far as to conclude that if Seoul attempts to find fault with Pyongyang’s decision to close down the complex, the shutdown will reach a point of no return.
It is ludicrous that North Korea tries to calculate who gets more benefit from the joint ventures in Kaesong. The fact that the industrial park has been continuously expanded for almost a decade - despite occasional bumps - is solid proof that it served both sides’ interests well: hard currency for cash-strapped North Korea and a drastic reduction in labor costs for South Korea.
The shutdown of the industrial complex clearly shows that North Korea can put its threats into action at any time. Such a mind-set, however, only darkens the future of the last-remaining vestige of economic exchange, as it will no doubt deepen South Korean entrepreneurs’ concerns that operating their factories in the complex could come back to bite them.
South Korean businessmen in Kaesong are increasingly facing threats from buyers overseas to cancel their contracts. If North Korea does not normalize operations of the park quickly, South Korean firms cannot but wrap up their businesses there.
We urge Pyongyang to resume operation of the park quickly and vow not to repeat threats to shut it down in the future.