Shutdown is Pyongyang’s fault
South Korea on Wednesday shut down the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the only remaining business venture between the two Koreas, in its strongest punitive measure so far following a series of provocations by Pyongyang. North Korea on Sunday carried out a long-range missile launch, just one month after conducting its fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6.
With full-fledged trade sanctions already in place, pulling the plug on the industrial complex, which serves as the biggest source for foreign currency in the country, is Seoul’s most powerful retaliatory action yet. But unless Pyongyang makes progressive steps toward ceasing its arms campaign, the complex runs the risk of idling indefinitely.
Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo said the government had decided to shut down the industrial park, fearing that South Korea’s support in operating the complex could be misused for the development of the North’s nuclear and missile programs. “Instead of waiting for North Korea to change, we must take a more proactive initiative to draw international endeavors toward ensuring peace on the Korean Peninsula,” he said.
Seoul had to lead by example, particularly as it pleads for more aggressive action from China and a stronger boycott on North Korean entities. We understand Seoul’s reasoning behind its decision but remain doubtful of its appropriateness. It is highly unlikely that Pyongyang will abruptly terminate its weapons program in light of losing $100 million per year due to the complex’s shutdown. It would hurt, of course, but the loss of Kaesong would not be significant enough to influence Pyongyang’s nuclear policy. It is also naive to think Beijing would be so impressed by Seoul’s move as to take similar action.
South Korea didn’t consider the Kaesong complex when North Korea carried it out its fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6, which the regime claimed was a hydrogen bomb. But it took the action when North Korea succeeded in blasting off a long-range missile that could reach as far as the United States. With the Kaesong Industrial Complex, there is nothing left to connect the two Koreas. The trust-building process President Park Geun-hye has championed as a cornerstone for inter-Korean policy would go down the drain. The hope that the South Korean system could incrementally work toward influencing North Korea through its presence in Kaesong is also dashed.
Except for a five-month suspension in 2013 due to a unilateral pullout by North Korea’s workers, the lights of the Kaesong complex have been on for the past 12 years. Operations kept going even when North Korea torpedoed a South Korean patrol ship and shelled an inhabited island in the West Sea. It’s a real pity that such a long-lasting inter-Korean venture has to crumble overnight due to such recklessness by Pyongyang.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 11, Page 26