Kaesong owners fly to Washington to lobby

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Kaesong owners fly to Washington to lobby

A delegation of South Korean owners of factories in the Kaesong Industrial Complex left Seoul for Washington on Monday to rally support from U.S. policymakers and opinion leaders on restarting their businesses.

Eleven members of organizations representing the businessmen, including the Corporate Association of Gaeseong Industrial Complex Chairman Jeong Ki-seop, Korea Federation of SMEs Chairman Kim Ki-mun and Kaesong Industrial District Foundation Chairman Kim Jin-hyang, are trying to meet lawmakers, local press and think tanks in the U.S. capital to relay their views on why the complex should be reopened.

While their schedule was fluid on their departure, chief on their list of public events the group hopes to partake in Washington is a briefing on Tuesday hosted by Rep. Brad Sherman, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and Nonproliferation.

The delegation hopes to follow that up with a meeting Thursday with officials from the U.S. State Department, though it remained uncertain which officials would receive them. Also on the group’s agenda is a round table discussion with experts from research institutes in Washington like the Stimson Center and the United States Institute of Peace. The last leg of their trip to the United States will take place in Los Angeles, where the delegates will hold a press conference with Korean-language local newspapers and meet Korean entrepreneurs in the United States before returning to Seoul Sunday.

In a visit to the Unification Ministry’s press room last week, the business owners explained the purpose of their trip.

“There has been a shift in [South Korea’s presidential] administration, but the possibility of reopening the industrial complex remains remote,” said Jeong. “Instead of passively relying on the government and waiting, we have planned this visit to the United States to contribute what we can to the reopening.”

Jeong added that the delegates will strive to clear up misunderstandings held by U.S. policymakers on the Kaesong Industrial Complex, and convince lawmakers of the importance of the complex as a means of securing peace on the Korean Peninsula.

“We hope to explain to the U.S. Congress and executive branch that the Kaesong Industrial Complex is an urgent issue that concerns the livelihoods of more than 200,000 South and North Koreans, independent of ideological matters,” Jeong said.

Another delegation member had a more critical view of the ignorance of U.S. officials about Kaesong.

“The United States only has a policy that says the complex shouldn’t be opened, but in reality [many U.S. citizens or policymakers] don’t even know where Kaesong is located,” he said. “Many are surprised when they learn [Kaesong] is right next to the demilitarized zone.”

Late last month, the group welcomed the Moon Jae-in administration’s decision to allow business owners to visit the equipment they left behind in their Kaesong factories when Seoul chose to withdraw from the complex in February 2016 as a response to a North Korean nuclear test. Pyongyang, however, has remained mum on the South’s request to that visit.

One organization leader, Shin Han-yong, said the business owners were holding out on the possibility that Pyongyang may yet approve the request before June 20, when U.S. President Donald Trump is set to visit Seoul to hold a summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

The business owners last week said their visit would be an important first step toward an eventual resumption of operations. They added that they hoped to attract investors from the United States and other countries to the complex, which could shield it from closure in the event of future political contingencies.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]
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