Burning a bridgeWith the last-minute pullout of seven South Koreans from the Kaesong Industrial Complex last weekend, there remains no single South Korean in the zone. The responsibility for the impasse should be borne by the Kim Jong-un regime, which blocked South Korean staff from entering the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean economic cooperation after the annual South Korea-U.S. military exercise last month. The suspension of the otherwise lucrative business in Kaesong took place 24 days after Pyongyang ordered all of the 53,000 North Korean workers to withdraw from the industrial park in protest of the joint drill.
Despite all the pleas for normalization of the industrial park by the seven South Korean workers, Pyongyang opted to find fault with another joint drill between South Korea and America called the Eulji Freedom Guardian. We are dumbfounded by Pyongyang’s attempt to capitalize on discord over the industrial complex as a means to put pressure on South Korea and its alliance with the U.S.
Pyongyang’s brazen behavior translates into an unreasonable demand that Seoul stop all kinds of joint military exercises with Washington. Even though the two allies have regularly been conducting joint drills from 2003, when the industrial park opened, Pyongyang denounced them most fiercely this year. But if Pyongyang adheres to such a belligerent attitude, that will inevitably lead to a complete shutdown of the park, which will cause massive economic damage on both sides. Even worse, the permanent closure of the complex will mean a loss of a common vision toward the ultimate goal of unification through the establishment of a common economic zone. Without such a grand vision, South-North relations cannot but regress to a vicious cycle of provocations and retaliations as during the cold war.
North Korea must go beyond its one-dimensional approach that relates all bilateral issues to military ones. It would be utterly naive for Pyongyang to believe that it can coerce Seoul into submission with a few nuclear weapons. Nothing would be more foolish than a misguided belief that it can unilaterally remove the great symbol of economic co-prosperity for purely internal reasons. One more thing: The North’s military provocations will only make the rest of the world a little nervous for a little while. This we’ve seen.
The Kaesong complex is a fountain of hope for both sides. It must serve as solid proof of the possibility of peace on the peninsula. Destroying the park is short-sighted. We urge Pyongyang not to destroy the last bridge to a better future.