North and South Korea agree to allow South's businesses inspect equipment
Kaesong Industrial Complex suspended after tensions this spring
Koreas agree to further talks on normalizing Kaesong operations Wednesday
After two days of talks, North and South Korea are inching towards restarting operations at the joint Kaesong Industrial Park.
The manufacturing complex run by North and South Korea, sits just north of the DMZ that separates the two countries. It housed operations of more than 120 South Korean companies and employed 53,000 Northern workers, before souring relations halted operations this spring.
The last remaining South Korean workers left the facilities in May, although work had been winding down amid tensions. Workers left with belongings strapped onto their cars.
For the first time since then, South Korean business personnel will be permitted to visit the complex and inspect their equipment Wednesday. On the same day, the two nations will hold another round of talks aimed at preventing such an outage and normalizing operations at Kaesong.
South Korean businesses will be permitted to take their products as well as raw materials out of Kaesong. The North agreed to ensure safe passage for South Korean personnel, according to KCNA, North Korea’s state-news agency and a statement from South Korea’s Ministry of Unification.
In its nine years of existence, the Kaesong Industrial Complex has served as a bellwether of North-South ties and the remaining vestige from the “Sunshine Policy,” when the two Koreas had an unprecedented level of engagement (1998-2008).
North Korea has barred South Korean workers from entering the complex before in 2009 and 2009.
“We clearly pointed out that the recurrence of sudden stoppage by the DPRK’s unilateral action must not happen,” said Kim Hyung-suk, spokesperson for the Ministry of Unification. “It also implies the expression of the government’s will to normalize the Kaesong Industrial zone constructively in the future.”
Kaesong is considered to be an important source of hard currency for Kim Jong Un’s government as more than hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of goods are produced each year.
Opinion remains divided on the potential restart for Kaesong.
An editorial in the Wall Street Journal said that South Korea’s president, Park Geun-hye is “repeating one of the worst mistakes of the misbegotten ‘Sunshine Policy’ of a decade ago.” It warned that, “Temporary closures of Kaesong are part of the Kims’ toolbox. Shutting the complex down for good can’t solve the problem entirely, but it should diminish their leverage and hasten the regime’s eventual collapse.”
Another editorial published during weekend in South Korea’s JoongAng Daily, urged keeping Kaesong, saying that the venture must be kept alive to “solve other inter-Korean problems.”
Meanwhile, North Korea marked the 19th anniversary of the death of its founder, Kim Il Sung, Monday. KCNA reported that Kim visited the hall where his grandfather lies as well as his father, Kim Jong Il at Kumsusan Palace of the Sun.
In recent weeks, North-South relations appear to have thawed. North Korea agreed to high-level talks with the South in June, though those talks were called off at the eleventh hour after disagreements about the level of the delegates who would represent each side.
This weekend’s talks occurred after North Korea restored a communication hotline with the South, which had been cut off repeatedly over the past four months.
Freelancer Soo Bin Park contributed to this report from Seoul, South Korea.