Bring Kaesong backAll the remaining South Korean workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex will return home today following 125 of them last weekend. The staff on their way home are those who have been staying there for maintenance of the industrial park, including South Korean members of the complex management committee, Korea Electric Power Corporation and the Korea Land and Housing Corporation.
Their departure could lead to a cutoff of electricity and water supplies. As all the machines and facilities there will most likely suffer critical damage in one or two months, any prolonging of the situation will turn the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean economic cooperation into a failure.
The responsibility has to be borne by North Korea, which used the industrial park as a political means to put pressure on South Korea. This time, North Korea pulled out its entire work force from the complex in contrast to 2009 when it only temporarily restricted South Korean workers’ entry into the park for political reasons. The North even cut off supplies of food and medicine to Southern workers who stayed there to protect their assets, which led to Seoul’s decision to bring them all home. Pyongyang said that it is Seoul who will suffer the most and that the regime has nothing to lose. The North went so far as to claim that the exit of the South Korean workers will help broaden its military advance route to South Korea.
We believe that our government’s decision was unavoidable to protect South Korean workers’ safety. Still, a question remains over the drastic nature of the pullout as it amounts to a tug of war with the North. That will push the South-North relations back to the days of cold war.
A proud symbol of economic cooperation will turn into a bleak and dreary place with only North Koreans guarding the complex. North Korea must let its workers return to their factories to normalize the park, and Seoul also should not give up efforts to talk with Pyongyang to reactivate the complex. At the same time, the North must guarantee that it will not take the industrial park hostage to political conflicts in the future.
President Park Geun-hye has reiterated the need to build trust with North Korea. But the developments in Kaesong clearly show how difficult it is to build trust with Pyongyang. Park’s so-called “trustpolitik” should bear fruit despite all the challenges ahead. We expect Seoul and Pyongyang to begin a straightforward dialogue to put the joint venture back on track.