Lawmakers travel to Kaesong to pressure North

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Lawmakers travel to Kaesong to pressure North


South Korean lawmakers who sit on the Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee look around the workplace of shoemaker Samduk Tongsang in the Kaesong Industrial Complex yesterday. [Joint Press Corps]

KAESONG, North Korea - A group of 47 South Koreans, including 21 lawmakers, visited the reopened Kaesong Industrial Complex to check its condition after the park was shut down for five months.

They also pushed Seoul’s ambition to develop the joint venture park into an international business district with investors from outside Korea.

“Through our visit to the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a symbol of inter-Korean business, we hope our efforts for the development of the complex will be demonstrated not only to our people, but also to North Korea,” said Ahn Hong-joon, chairman of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee, who led the delegation, at a briefing yesterday at the Dorasan Customs, Immigration and Quarantine center after the visit.

“We urge North Korean authorities to be more active in accelerating discussions on an advanced level of normalization of the Kaesong Industrial Complex,” Ahn said, which is diplomatic speak for bringing other foreign investors into the complex.

After crossing the heavily-guarded border in buses, the lawmakers, who were all members of Ahn’s committee, visited four South Korean factories and met South Korean workers and business owners there. Some reporters and government officials accompanied them.

It is the first time for incumbent lawmakers to make an official visit to the complex while the government is under a parliamentary audit.

“Although the official rate of operations in the complex is reported to be 80 percent, in fact only 50 percent of the factories are working,” Han Jae-kwon, head of an association of South Korean business owners in the complex, said at a meeting with lawmakers. “Lots of our buyers have not returned to us.”

South Korea’s “advanced level of normalization” slogan refers to bringing in other foreign investors and some other improvements, such as amending tax regulations and the infrastructure of the complex in North Korean territory. It also includes lowering the political risk related to Kaesong, which means averting another shutdown when relations between South and North Korea deteriorate. Bringing in non-Korean investors is part of that process.

When the two Koreas agreed to restart operations at the complex, North Korea consented to its so-called internationalization in an inter-Korean agreement.

South Korea also wants to improve telecommunication facilities, Internet access, customs regulations and import of raw materials into the complex. Currently there is no use of the Internet or cell phones in the complex, and North Korean authorities have strict rules over customs and import of raw materials.

North Korea has been reluctant to agree to the changes.

On Sept. 25, it canceled a meeting to discuss the communications infrastructure, apparently angry over a botched plan for reunions of war-separated families.

Since then, all negotiations to improve the Kaesong complex have been halted. On Oct. 14, South Korea canceled a special seminar for potential foreign investors in the complex.

BY KIM HEE-JIN, Joint Press Corps []
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