Thumbs up by analysts to Park’s North moves

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Thumbs up by analysts to Park’s North moves

As the Kaesong Industrial Complex empties out, a panel of 10 North Korea analysts were positive about the Park Geun-hye administration’s approach to the issue, which threatens to end the last remaining area of inter-Korean cooperation.

The North started the crisis by pulling its 53,000 workers from the industrial complex on April 9. But after Pyongyang proved unresponsive to Seoul’s offers of dialogue to reopen the industrial park, the South Korean government on Friday announced it would withdraw its remaining workers from Kaesong.

The JoongAng Ilbo yesterday invited a panel of experts including professors, former ministers and North Korea analysts to share their opinions on the clash over Kaesong and its shutdown. Many of the experts lauded Park’s decision to withdraw the remaining South Korean workers, saying it was the natural decision to make as president.

Kim Young-soo, a political science professor at Sogang University, said, “As president, she determined that South Korean citizens may be put in danger and took an action that no other Korean president has taken before.”

Others compared the situation to North Korea holding the South’s workers hostage in the industrial park after all inbound supplies were cut off.

“As North Korea blocked food and other materials needed to operate the Kaesong Industrial Complex, in reality it was like holding hostages,” said Korea Institute for National Unification senior researcher Jeong Young-tai. “Would a country leave its people in the midst of a fire pit? You can view it as a sort of rescue operation of hostages.”

The experts also thought the Park government stuck to a more consistent policy toward the North than the previous administration.

“President Park’s realistic position, stemming from a good understanding of the North Korean government, is guarding her principles well,” said Yeom Don-jay, dean of Sungkyunkwan University’s Graduate School of Strategic Studies. “The previous administration tried to initiate dialogue with North Korea early on, but this government is not showing any haste regarding improvement in our relations with the North.”

But other analysts warned the Park administration has to be very careful in the words it uses and the actions it undertakes because it may destroy inter-Korean relations.

“It is undesirable for Park to show direct involvement in North Korea issues such as personally offering dialogue with North Korea or expressing regret for North Korea rejecting dialogue, because she would have to take responsibility later on,” said Yang Mu-jin, a political science professor at the University of North Korean Studies. “It is important for her to set the direction [of North Korea policy], but the president should refrain from directly taking action.”

He added that Park and other political leaders too frequently express their opinions about North Korea.

“North Korea is a dictatorship where the state is equivalent to the leader,” he said, “so if words that are not necessary are misspoken, there is a chance it may lead to a worst-case situation in North-South relations.”

“We are the ones who shut down Kaesong,” said Lee Jae-joung, former unification minister in the Roh Moo-hyun administration. “It doesn’t make sense to take our people away [from Kaesong]. The peace on the Korean Peninsula achieved in the past 10 years cannot be ruthlessly demolished like this.”

Bae Jong-chan, research director at polling agency Research & Research, said it may be difficult to strengthen the peace-building process after the withdrawal of South Korean workers from Kaesong.

The recent increase in support for President Park is thanks to her middle-ground approach, said Yoon Hee-woong, senior analyst at the Korea Society Opinion.

By Kang Tae-hwa [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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