Better without the riskThe Kaesong Industrial Complex could be shut down forever. After North Korea announced the suspension of business, it has been barring workers from entering the complex. Pyongyang officials are coming up with various excuses and reasons not to reopen the business complex, putting all the blame on Seoul for the losses and fate of the 10-year-old business venture.
In 2009, North Korea also threatened to shut down the factory city, suggesting that it does not simply regard the industrial city from a business perspective. The complex has been serving political and security purposes for Pyongyang. We must read North Korea’s masked intentions.
The Kaesong industrial complex opened a decade ago carrying a meaning beyond a landmark joint-venture business deal. It was born amid political and social aspirations toward the shared goal of peace and unification on the Korean Peninsula. Both Koreas desired the zone to help move the two countries toward peace and reunification. This is why South Korea has time after time tolerated and yielded to North Korea’s reckless terms and behavior to sustain the Kaesong complex. Why have we compromised? It is because we hoped the industrial base would lead to market opening and reforms in North Korea. We had hoped business revenues and confidence would slowly change North Korea and motivate it to move toward a normal state and economy. But Pyongyang has chosen to abuse it as a weapon to threaten Seoul.
The two Koreas are at their worst confrontation. The Kaesong Industrial Complex cannot be sustained under such security tensions and danger. Its location in North Korea makes it vulnerable to become hostage. The administrative jurisdiction gives Pyongyang the authority to abuse the complex as means to pressure and threaten Seoul. We have tried to dismiss Kaesong’s geographical risk. We tried to hide our anxiety and hoped North Koreans would exercise good sense every time the industrial complex suffered hiccups. The complex lasted 10 years with authorities turning a blind eye to its fundamental problems and resorting to makeshift measures.
With the launch of long-range missiles in December, North Korea has been ratcheting up provocations with a third nuclear test, threats of thermonuclear war and bouts of violent rhetoric. When the saber-rattling lost its effect, it turned to its remaining option of closing down the Kaesong complex. North Korea cut off the telecommunications line, banned entry to the city and finally pulled out its workers to stop the assembly lines. Instead of serving as an incubator for the mutual future and hope, Kaesong turned into a threat and conflict zone. Pyongyang is abusing its exclusive administrative rights to beat us all.
Both Koreas do not deny the tangible and intangible values we can earn from the joint-venture in Kaesong. But the environment lacks conditions to underscore and maximize the potential value. As long as the zone remains under North Korea’s exclusive jurisdiction, Pyongyang can use it for political purposes at any time. In order to run the complex purely on business mind-set and principles, North Korea must surrender its exclusive administrative authority in the area. If the zone continues to be a threat, we may be better without it. Translation by Korea JoongAng Daily staff
*The author is a professor of North Korean studies at Korea University.
by Cho Young-ki