Why Pyongyang gave inNorth Korea has finally made a concession to resume talks on reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex. It’s not the first time Pyongyang gave in, but South Koreans have long had the impression that the North was always aggressive and harsh and rarely made concessions.
Three months ago, when North Korea pulled out its 53,000 workers from the industrial park, South Koreans shook their heads. They didn’t believe the North would actually do such a thing, and the move was a surprise. Thinking back on the situation, it’s really hard to imagine that the North would yield and demonstrate any enthusiasm to reopen the park. What happened to make them change their minds?
The two Koreas had a heated war of nerves over the resumption of business at the park. The South Korean government was adamant that it would not allow the North to close the industrial complex again in the future simply based on a whim. The South made it clear that unless the North admitted its responsibility and assured us that no similar incident would happen again, it would not allow the project to die.
Six rounds of lower-level talks broke down and the South Korean government announced it would compensate South Korean companies with factories in Kaesong by using economic cooperation insurance. That signaled Kaesong’s final demise. One hour later, Pyongyang gave in. It was a moment in which the South Korean government won a perfect victory against the North.
We also need to look at international developments surrounding the North. In late June, President Park Geun-hye visited China and received a passionately warm welcome. Having learned the Chinese language on her own, Park said in a speech that Feng Youlan’s “A History of Chinese Philosophy” was her favorite book. The Chinese people did not hesitate to express their friendly feelings toward Park. And Park had serious talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping about North Korean issues.
In sharp contrast, Beijing gave a cold reception to Choe Ryong-hae, a special envoy of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, only a month prior to Park’s visit. Xi also had close consultations with U.S. President Barack Obama concerning North Korean nuclear issues during a trip to the United States in early June. In other words, China didn’t hesitate to show it was displeased with the recalcitrant regime in Pyongyang.
China did so because it decided that it wouldn’t condone the North’s third nuclear test and provocative behavior to denounce the annual Korea-U.S. military exercises in March and April. China’s strong stance remains unchanged and North Korean leader Kim has been unable to visit China yet.
The unusually long season of heavy rains has also tired out the North. Although damage from floods has not been accurately reported, the North reportedly suffered high casualties and damage to properties because of the excessively rainy days. A central command for flood prevention was established and commands were opened in provinces, cities and counties all across the North, hinting that most parts of the country suffered from the floods.
Under such circumstances, the North Korean leadership, including Kim, must have been reminded of the Arduous March in the 1990s when hundreds of thousands of people were starved to death due to famines as a result of the floods.
As situations at home and abroad grew worse, Kim probably thought he needed a breakthrough by making a concession on the Kaesong Industrial Complex issue. If Kaesong shut down, outside assistance for flood damage wouldn’t come in smoothly. He also believed that his ambitious projects of special economic zones in Sinuiju, Haeju, Nampo, Najin and Wonsan to attract foreign investments would fail. Kim is limping at home and abroad, and prospects are high that the North will maintain a compromising attitude for a while.
Park must have known about the North’s hardships, but it doesn’t seem she used them to her advantage. Her North Korean policy was implemented based on her principles, and it just so happened that the North had to compromise. Park was lucky with her timing.
Will that luck contribute to constructive progress in inter-Korean relations? For now, the start is not bad. If Park avoids cornering the North, expectations are high that her trust-building process on the Korean Peninsula will soon move along the right track.
* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kang Young-jin