Go to contents

Staff at NK complex work as normal despite Kim`s death

Posted December. 20, 2011 04:49,   


"We were surprised to see the response among North Korean workers, who were unexpectedly calm."

This is what the head of a company operating a plant at the Kaesong industrial complex in North Korea said after hearing news of the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il from a staff member who entered the North from South Korea at 5 p.m. Monday. According to the heads of multiple companies, North Korean workers learned belatedly of Kim`s death at 1 p.m. the same day given the lack of TVs installed in their production lines.

According to the company head, North Korean workers were considerably shocked to hear of Kim`s death but continued their daytime shift until the end of the business day. Workers gathered in groups of three or four and held chats with a serious look during breaks, but did not cry or show marked signs of indignation.

A company source said, “We don`t know if the response was taken due to the special education of senior workers or other reasons, but our workers weren`t agitated and didn`t push up the close of business.”

The head of another company with a plant at the Kaesong complex, upon entering South Korea, also said, "I heard no news about Kim Jong Il`s death at the Kaesong industrial complex at all or saw any signs or moves that looked extraordinary," adding, "I was totally shocked to hear related news after returning to South Korea."

The companies, however, instructed staff from the South to use "caution in speech and action" to not provoke North Korean workers, who could get mentally agitated. The head of another company in the complex said, "I stressed that South Korean workers should avoid making inadvertent remarks such as `Kim Jong Il died,` and anger North Korean workers," adding, "I`ll check the real situation in the North by calling in our staff who are entering the South this evening."

Apart from this, the association of companies operating in the complex held a meeting of senior staff presided over by association chief Bae Hae-dong at its Seoul office around 5 p.m. Monday. If North Korean authorities request that they stop operations through the day of Kim`s funeral on Dec. 28 to allow workers to attend memorial events, the companies will approve.

Companies in the complex and experts also predicted no major change any time soon at the facility after Kim`s death. Yang Mu-jin, a professor of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said, "Since the structure for the power transfer to Kim Jong Un has been consolidated over the past year, chances of a civilian revolution or military coup are slim," adding, "Kim`s death will have a limited impact over the short term.”

The head of another company operating in Kaesong said, “The Kaesong industrial complex didn`t stop operations even when North Korea conducted nuclear tests," in expressing cautious optimism.

Other voices, however, warned that Kim`s death could have a negative influence on the North`s political situation, saying the North Korean military objected to the entry of South Korean companies to Kaesong, which is a strategically important location, in the early years of the complex.

South Korea`s Hyundai Group, which has undergone hardship due to the suspension of South Korean tours to Mount Kumgang for the third year, appears wary that Kim`s death could dampen the resumption of tours. Hyundai Asan Corp. held an emergency meeting chaired by CEO Chang Kyung-jak on a future course of action.

The company had anticipated early resumption of the tours due to Seoul`s string of overtures to Pyongyang in recent months.

Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun hurriedly returned to her company`s office in Seoul`s Yeonji-dong neighborhood at 1:55 p.m. Monday. When asked by reporters about the outlook of the group`s North Korea business following Kim`s death, she merely gave a gloomy facial expression without responding.

sukim@donga.com sun10@donga.com