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[Editorial] Safety Guarantees Needed at Kaesong Complex

Posted March. 16, 2009 09:48,   


North Korea closed its border Friday without explanation just three days after it had reopened it. As a result, 727 South Koreans have been stranded in the North for four days. Pyongyang is making a huge mistake, however, if it believes it can leverage the inter-Korean industrial complex in Kaesong to get its way. Its erratic behavior will only invite a backlash from South Korea and the world, and Pyongyang will be left alone to suffer all the consequences.

North Korea has agreed to an agreement to ensure access, communication and customs clearance, and another to guarantee the safety of South Korean workers entering and residing at the complex. Pyongyang also promised to protect the rights and interests of investors by enacting a civil law on governing the complex in 2002. Unfortunately the North broke the pact with South Korea and also violated its self-imposed law. Under such circumstances, no one can trust North Korea and engage in economic cooperation with it. The North is hastening its own demise with a closed economy.

The South Korean government delivered a verbal message urging an immediate reopening of the border. The ball is in North Korea’s court, however, and this is lamentable. Fundamentally, former Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun should take responsibility for the latest incident for their indulgence in the “sunshine policy” that prioritized ostensible improvement in inter-Korean relations over South Koreans’ safety. They consider the Mount Kumgang resort and the industrial complex the policy’s biggest successes, but the resort project has been suspended for eight months due to the killing of a South Korean tourist by a North Korean soldier last summer. The complex is now being held hostage under Pyongyang’s political whims.

As if spokesmen for North Korea, the main opposition Democratic Party and pro-North Korea groups are blaming South Korean President Lee Myung-bak for everything since he failed to carry on the sunshine policy. In the face of a missile threat from Pyongyang, it is outrageous for them to dump all the blame onto the South Korean government, whose only mistake was to strive for inter-Korean economic cooperation and exchanges. Such division is exactly what Pyongyang wants. The North is waiting for Seoul to surrender and apologize by driving a wedge within the South Korean public.

The Kaesong complex cannot continue to run without assurances for the safety of South Korean workers. Seoul needs to come up with fundamental solutions this time. With no prospects of political and military détente between the two Koreas, bilateral economic cooperation projects could derail at any time. Unless Pyongyang immediately reopens the border and provides a strong security guarantee, Seoul should make it clear that it can give up the Kaesong complex altogether. The international community should deal with the civilian-threatening North with a clear understanding of its true intentions.