The companies are blameless
The closure of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, which has been jointly run by the two Koreas since 2004 and is the last remaining economic cooperation project between them, to punish North Korea for a nuclear test in January and a missile launch last weekend is understandable for the sake of national security and the safety of South Korean citizens.
Follow-up measures must be designed carefully to minimize losses for Korean businesses in the industrial park. Authorities should place top priority on compensating for business losses from the closure and prevent the losses from spilling over into the broader economy.
However, the government on Friday released a set of disappointing relief measures comprising emergency aid and rollover of debt more suitable for companies in trouble - not companies that were forced out of business for the national cause.
Enraged manufacturers in the park are demanding restitution for the shutdown of their operations, not aid. Their anger was heightened when the government put all the blame on Pyongyang. The Kaesong park members have been patient even when operations were temporarily suspended in 2013.
They restrained themselves from criticizing Seoul when it was waging a war of words with Pyongyang, which obviously threatened their businesses.
But this is different. The factory closures were abruptly announced by Seoul. Because exits were restricted to one vehicle and one person per day following the announcement, they had to leave behind finished products, raw materials and other assets.
It is irresponsible to simply pin the blame on Pyongyang when Seoul gave the Korean businesses no choice. The companies may threaten a suit against the government, but none so far have won any legal battle involving the Kaesong Industrial Complex. From a legal perspective, companies cannot win.
Pyongyang was brutal in seizing all the assets in the complex. But it should not be the companies that endure all the losses. The closure was made for national security. Compensation should also be viewed from an emergency perspective. The government should provide for the losses and later settle them with Pyongyang. This must not create conflict between the government and the companies.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 13, Page 26
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