Keep this from happening againSouth and North Korea signed an agreement yesterday on the basic principles for resumption of the operation of the Kaesong Industrial Complex. With the latest developments, the industrial park has found a clue to resolving the crisis which began after North Korea banned South Korean businessmen from entering the complex in April. Working-level officials from Seoul and Pyongyang this time could strike a deal after 10 meetings between top representatives from each side. We welcome the positive outcome of the meeting.
Despite the fact that the meeting was originally expected to drag on because South Korea put a higher priority on averting further suspension of the park operations while North Korea focused more on resumption of the complex, both sides made a compromise. The North accepted our businessmen’s desperate pleas to check the condition of their machines during the monsoon season and to ship their finished products, machines and other supplies back to the South. North Korea also guaranteed that it will allow South Koreans’ telecommunication and passage in the complex as well as protect their safety when they visit the complex and return home.
However, it has a long way to go before normalization of the last-remaining symbol of inter-Korean economic cooperation. In a joint statement, the two sides agreed to reactivate the industrial park when “both sides are prepared.” But they will likely disagree on the meaning of the sentence as the South thinks the industrial complex can only be reopened when the North comes up with practical measures to prevent such an erratic interruption, while the North will most likely assume that the park can be reopened as long as technical problems are solved.
If the joint venture should face another crisis depending on the political situation, efforts to put it back on track would be meaningless. Therefore, it is natural that the Park Geun-hye administration, which has repeatedly emphasized the significance of principles and trust on inter-Korean issues, demands responsible answers from the North and sincere measures to avert such a recurrence.
Despite the tug of war over the level of top representatives from each side during the last meeting, the working-level meeting went relatively smoothly this time. It could reflect Pyongyang’s calculation that a better South-North relationship is a first step to escape from its diplomatic isolation and its judgment that a permanent shutdown will lead to a huge financial loss. Both sides must find a special formula to fundamentally prevent such cases based on the principle of separation of economics from politics. Where there is a will, there is a way.