Steps begin to revive Kaesong

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Steps begin to revive Kaesong

Following the low-level talks that laid the groundwork for reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the government and the legislature in Seoul are taking steps to revive the eight-year-old venture park, the last remaining inter-Korean project.

For the South Korean government, its top priority in Kaesong is prevention of another shutdown, as the North didn’t make its intentions clear in the joint agreement released on Sunday.

With the agreement, the two Koreas agreed on “constructive normalization” of the complex, without mentioning “the prevention of a shutdown.”

The so-called “constructive normalization” has been emphasized by the South, demanding North Korea refrain from unilateral acts regarding Kaesong.

President Park Geun-hye also reiterated the importance of preventing a shutdown from recurring during a meeting with her senior presidential secretaries yesterday.

“Protecting the assets of our companies, securing the safety of our people and preventing wrongful incidents from repeating, such as breaking an agreement, is not only important for resolving the Kaesong issues, but also for development of inter-Korean relations,” Park said.

“For better inter-Korean relations, we should have some common sense and arrange agreements based on international standards, and those agreements must be kept to build up mutual trust and create an advanced relationship,” she said, apparently urging North Korea not to break any more agreements with Seoul.

In April, when North Korea unilaterally imposed the entry ban on Southern workers and businessmen, Park denounced Pyongyang’s violation of the Kaesong contract with Seoul, saying “no foreign country would be willing to invest” in such a state.

“It is fortunate that South and North Korea reached an agreement in the working-level talks, which enabled business owners to bring their products and facilities,” she added yesterday. “Taking this incident as an opportunity, I want you to help the business owners reduce their losses and do your best to assist them with maintenance checks of their facilities.”

At the two-day talks held at the Tongil (Unification) Pavilion in the truce village of Panmunjom, the two Koreas reached a consensus on four categories: allowing Southern businessmen to enter the complex on Wednesday for maintenance on their facilities; allowing them to take their products and assets out of the complex; guaranteeing the safety of South Korean workers or officials who will visit the complex; and restarting the operation when all preparations are completed and having additional talks on Wednesday at the complex.

Saenuri Party Chairman Hwang Woo-yea said the ruling party members were considering proposing a bill to pay compensation for the 123 Southern companies running factories in the complex and preventing a further shutdown.

“The Saenuri Party is positively reviewing proposing a bill to support the Kaesong Industrial Complex,” Hwang said. “The government should be eager to offer rescue plans for the companies from the upcoming provocations from North Korea.”

According to the Unification Ministry’s inspection, the total losses the 123 companies based in the complex suffered was about 700 billion won ($607 million) as of April. But the business owners estimate they lost 1.05 trillion won in total.

Hwang also stressed the importance of prevention of a unilateral shutdown by North Korea.

“We should focus on resolving the fundamental instability of the complex, so that it wouldn’t be affected by inter-Korean relations,” Hwang added.

Democratic Party leader Kim Han-gill urged the government to convene a higher-level dialogue by taking the low-level talks as an opportunity, in order to improve the longtime strained relations between the two Koreas.

“We should develop more talks, more frequently, on a higher-level,” Kim said at a party meeting yesterday.

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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