Compromise is key in Kaesong

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Compromise is key in Kaesong

The seventh working-level meeting between South and North Korea to put the Kaesong Industrial Complex back on track will be held in Kaesong, North Korea, today.

The fate of the joint venture will be determined by this last-ditch effort to resume operations of the joint industrial park. If the two sides cannot narrow their differences on conditions for resumption this time around, it will likely be shut down forever. Both sides must not ignore our businessmen’s aspirations for normalization of the last vestige of inter-Korean economic cooperation. Both sides must approach the issue with strong determination that they won’t leave the negotiating table without reaching an agreement.

The biggest question is who should take responsibility for the suspension of the complex - and how to prevent a recurrence. North Korea promised that it will lift the provisional suspension, order North Korean workers to go to work and protect South Korean owners’ personal safety and properties a week ago. Pyongyang also vowed to guarantee the normal operation of the park under any circumstances - without it being affected by political circumstances, above all.

However, the North said that same principle should also apply to the South. But in fact, the Kaesong fiasco originated with North Korea’s unilateral decision to block South Korean managers’ entry into the park and pull out its work force entirely for political reasons. Therefore, our government argues it is the North that must ensure no such incident occurs in the future.

Still, the “developmental normalization” of the Kaesong complex that the Park Geun-hye administration seeks cannot be achieved by one party’s assurance alone because it’s an issue that calls for both sides’ guarantees. If both sides have trouble specifying who’s responsible for yet another suspension, Seoul and Pyongyang can still find ways to separately guarantee no recurrence in the future. If a failure to strike a deal leads to a permanent closure of the complex, that would be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

A complete victory is not desirable in any set of negotiations because the grudge and humiliation of the loser will certainly bring about more serious ramifications the next time around. South and North Korea must reach an agreement through mutual compromise if they really want to pave the way for a permanently sustainable operation of the joint venture in Kaesong. That will also be the moment when President Park’s trust-building process on the Korean Peninsula will bear its first fruits.
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