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[Opinion] Plot to Ruin Gaesong Industrial Complex

Posted November. 10, 2008 08:25,   


North Korea’s ill intention toward the Gaesong Industrial Complex has reared its ugly head. Last week, a group of North Korean military inspectors led by Lt. General Kim Yong Chol paid a surprise visit to the complex. Kim is widely known as Pyongyang’s chief delegate to inter-Korean general-level talks in South Korea, but this time, he assumed the title of policy chief of the National Defense Committee, the most powerful organization in the North. While inspecting infrastructure and companies at the complex, he reportedly asked, “How long would it take for South Korean companies to pack up and go home?”

In a meeting between South and North Korean working-level military officials Oct. 2, Pyongyang complained about the distribution of anti-North leaflets as having a negative impact on the complex. It later on toughened its stance with threatening comments carried in an editorial in the daily Rodong Shinmun (Labor Newspaper) and through a statement through the North’s spokesman for the generals’ talks. Before the North made an issue out of the leaflets, it also criticized comments made by South Korean Unification Minister Kim Ha-joong in March and those of President Lee Myung-bak in September. The inspection of the complex and threats to thwart the project prove that the North has gone a step further to the extent of being a “military show-off.”

Predicting how far the North will go is challenging, but the Gaesong Industrial Complex has long been the whipping boy of inter-Korean relations. Given the North’s dire situation, however, this approach is the worst path for Pyongyang to take. The complex employs 35,000 North Korean workers who earn 55 dollars a month (63 dollars including social insurance), an amount considered extremely high by North Korean standards. Though the communist regime deducts a significant sum from their salaries, workers there are clearly healthier and better fed than their malnourished neighbors. If each of these workers is assumed to be part of a family of four, the complex feeds 140,000 North Koreans.

In his first news conference as U.S. president-elect, Barack Obama said he wants to help the middle class by creating jobs while expressing concern over the loss of 1.2 million jobs this year. At a time when even the world’s largest economy is keen to raise employment, North Korea, which relies on external food assistance, is threatening to derail a project worth 35,000 jobs to its underfed population. Nonetheless, Pyongyang brazenly said it will build a materialistically rich nation by 2012, the centennial anniversary of the birthday of its first leader Kim Il Sung, through economic development and welfare improvement. The North must think hard about who has more to lose from its plot to derail the Gaesong complex project.

Editorial Writer Bhang Hyeong-nam (hnbhang@donga.com)