Allow them to go to Kaesong

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Allow them to go to Kaesong

Frustrated with the impasse in government-level talks to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex, businessmen and owners of factories in the joint-venture industrial park took matters into their own hands. They warned that they could make a “grave decision” if Seoul and Pyongyang do not take the necessary steps by July 3 to allow them back into the industrial park for maintenance and repair jobs on their assembly lines and industrial facilities. In a joint press conference, representatives of 46 manufacturers of machinery and electronic parts said they no longer can leave their facilities unattended because they are sensitive to malfunctions and other problems if they remain idle for too long.

The South Korean businessmen pleaded to both governments to let them at least have facility maintenance workers visit the area. They argued that they must examine and take necessary repair jobs by July 3 as three months have already passed since the industrial park has been halted. If authorities turn down their desperate request, they will assume the two governments have no will to save the joint-venture complex and take necessary steps to close their businesses and file for compensation.

Hopes were raised when Seoul and Pyongyang reached an agreement to hold high-level government talks, but the meeting was called off due to disagreements over the rank of representatives. Nearly two weeks have passed since the breakdown, but Seoul and Pyongyang are still stubbornly at odds. President Park Geun-hye stressed that inter-Korean relations should be based on “common sense and international norms,” giving little maneuvering room for working-level talks. Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae merely reiterated that Seoul is still open for working-level talks to settle the Kaesong problem.

It is important to set the record straight for inter-Korean dialogue. What matters most now are the interests of South Korean businessmen. If the new Seoul government wants to wage a nerve game and tame Pyongyang, it may score points with conservatives, but would have to face strong resentment from investors and businessmen who risked everything purely with confidence in their government. The damages the government may have to pay to these companies would also come from taxpayers. Pyongyang already said it would be willing to discuss visits by South Korean businessmen. Seoul will have to allow at least the maintenance workers to cross the border. Talks to seek ways to restore the industrial complex can come later.

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