North Korea agrees to Kaesong committee talks

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North Korea agrees to Kaesong committee talks

North Korea accepted South Korea’s proposal to hold official talks to develop the jointly run Kaesong Industrial Complex into an international business district, a Seoul official said yesterday.

In a briefing yesterday, an official from South Korea’s Ministry of Unification told reporters that North Korea sent a notification to Seoul on Monday, saying it accepted its suggestion to hold a meeting between officials of the South-North Joint Committee for the Kaesong Industrial Complex inside the joint venture park.

South Korea previously requested to hold the regular committee talks on June 19.

However, North Korea did not respond to the proposal, and Seoul officials at the time expressed regret over Pyongyang’s silence.

“We could not hold a meeting of the joint committee because North Korea did not issue a response,” the Unification Ministry official said. “But they made a counterproposal to hold the talks on June 26, and we sent a reply this morning to North Korea that we agree.”

The official said the talks will be attended by high-level officials. Seoul’s Lee Gang-wu, an official from the Unification Ministry official, will attend, as will his Northern counterpart Pak Chol-su, the vice-director of the Central Special Zone Development Guidance General Bureau.

When both Koreas signed a joint declaration in July 2013, they pledged that they would not shut down the 10-year-old venture park, where 125 South Korean companies are based, regardless of the political situation.

North Korea withdrew its workers from the park in April 2013 amid tension with the South. After a series of negotiations, both nations eventually agreed to reopen it with the North’s promise not to unilaterally close it down again for its political gain.

Under the declaration, both sides also vowed to develop the complex into an international industrial park, drawing foreign investment and capital to the complex, which is located in the strategically important city of Kaesong, North Korea.

For the plan, they launched the joint committee to serve as the authority in the complex’s development and pledged to hold regular meetings with committee members at least once a quarter.

Seoul believes this will deter the North from shutting down the park if relations between the two countries start to deteriorate.

But the two Koreas have yet to agree on earlier plans to improve the complex’s infrastructure, including bringing in Internet and mobile phone access. So far, no foreign company has run a factory in Kaesong Industrial Complex.

Tensions between North and South Korea heightened this year with the start of joint military drills between South Korea and the United States, which ran from February to April. So far, no Kaesong committee talks have been held in 2014.

“North Korea wants to develop some heavy industries, the steel industry or the high-end machinery business, so that they can learn cutting-edge technologies from foreign companies - not just the manufacture of shoes and clothing,” a South Korean government official told the Korea JoongAng Daily.

“But that could be a violation of UN Security Council sanctions on the regime.”

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]




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