Don’t shut the door completely

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Don’t shut the door completely

The Kaesong Industrial Complex is dead. It was more than a site of economic cooperation. Peace was being produced there. To revive it, North Korea should abandon its nuclear program, but it is unlikely. On Feb. 11, North Korea issued a Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland statement, stating, “It is foolish to think the breakdown of the industrial park would effect North Korea’s nuclear armament.” President Park Geun-hye responded in her National Assembly speech on Feb. 16 by saying “Shutting down the Kaesong Complex is only the beginning of measures that South Korea will take along with the international community,”. Caught in the hardline showdown of the two Koreas, the joint industrial park is destined to be history.

Following the shutdown of the complex, the United States and Japan each announced their own sanctions against North Korea. Washington made it harder for Pyongyang to earn dollars used for nuclear and missiles development, improved cyberattack capacity and purchases of luxury goods for the elite class. Moreover, the United States would implement a secondary boycott, restricting Chinese companies dealing with North Korea. Japan announced restricted entry of North Korean nationals and ships.

What’s interesting about Japan’s sanctions on North Korea, is the exception for remittances to North Korea. Sending less than 100,000 yen ($880) for humanitarian purposes is allowed. As this small amount is still allowed, Japan hasn’t closed the door completely.

Moreover, Tokyo is willing to continue talks to resolve the abduction issue. Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda said, “Tokyo is willing to continue negotiating with Pyongyang on the abduction issue, so the doors are not closed.” Katsunobu Kato, state minister in charge of the abduction issue, said that Japan has no intention to break the Stockholm agreement on reinvestigation of the abduction issue and partial easing of the sanctions.

While Japan participated in Seoul and Washington’s sanctions against North Korea, it did not completely cut off the communication channels. The Abe government promised a “complete resolution of the abduction issue,” and, although it may take longer, Tokyo is willing to wait. Japan is preparing a way to resume talks with North Korea first when the latest crisis calms down, before Seoul or Washington.

At every major crisis in inter-Korean relations, I am reminded of what a former vice unification minister said over a decade ago. “Even as Pyongyang escalates tension, we should leave an exit route. It will prevent the North from making extreme choices and ensure Washington and Beijing don’t ignore Seoul.” When there is a way out, cornered enemy forces won’t fight back desperately. When dealing with North Korea, we have to choose from the available options, not what we want to achieve. Rather than emotional and impulsive decisions, we need calmly calculated moves.

The author is a researcher at the Unification Research Institute, JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 22, Page 30

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