Dawdling over Kaesong

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Dawdling over Kaesong

North Korea has come up with ideas to normalize the closed Kaesong Industrial Complex through the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, a state mouthpiece on relations with South Korea. But Pyongyang responded negatively to a proposal for talks by Seoul. The committee’s communique is packed with ill-grounded justifications for the North’s earlier actions and baseless denunciations of the South. We wonder if Pyongyang really wants to restore the symbolic inter-Korean joint venture or just provoke internal conflict in the South.

Pyongyang shut down the industrial park early last month on the pretext of protesting an annual South Korea-U.S. joint military exercise. As international pressure rapidly built up after its third nuclear test, North Korea ratcheted up tensions through nuclear threats against South Korea and the United States before unilaterally opting to pull out from the Kaesong complex. As the shutdown was protracted, our government had no other choice but to withdraw the remaining South Korean staff from the park since they had trouble receiving food and medical supplies from the South due to the North’s ban on shipments in and out.

North Korea has again proved that it can and will exploit the industrial park for political purposes at any time. Our government said it cannot operate the complex if the North adheres to such narrow-minded attitudes. Seoul also made it clear that the proposed working-level talks are only aimed at bringing back the finished products and parts still remaining in the complex, hinting that North Korea has lots of things to do before normalizing the park.

The tit-for-tat gives us the impression that both sides are still intent on winning a tug-of-war instead of meeting people’s growing expectations for normalization of the complex.

As the North is well aware, the South ran the industrial park even after Pyongyang conducted a third nuclear test. But the North took the complex hostage to political issues as evidenced by its decision to close it down for a routine drill between South Korea and America. Under such circumstances, it would be naive for us to reopen the park as if nothing had happened.

In the meantime, however, our government also needs to express a willingness to reactivate the complex by discussing how that would be done rather than confining the agenda to retrieving stuff left in the complex. The park has played its role as a beacon of co-prosperity in a divided land despite intermittent interruptions. Both sides should not abandon the symbol of economic cooperation. They must find a breakthrough to the stalemate quickly.

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