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Gov`t Mulling Options to N. Korea`s Demands

Posted May. 18, 2009 14:22,   


The government is considering both strong and moderate countermeasures to North Korea’s threat to nullify contracts on the Kaesong industrial complex and release a Hyundai Asan employee.

Calls are growing that Seoul prepare for the closure of the complex to punish the North for unilaterally demanding wage increases for North Korean workers while holding the worker hostage.

Others say, however, that high-level talks between two Koreas are necessary to discuss the North’s request, the release of the worker, and improvement of regulations on the complex`s management. Saying it wants to solve the problems with North Korea through dialogue to maintain and develop the complex, the South Korean government said it hopes Pyongyang will accept Seoul’s offer to hold talks today.

▽ Resolving N. Korea`s brinksmanship tactics

Those who want strong action against the North have made their case based on aggravating public opinion toward Pyongyang in the wake of the North’s unilateral scrapping of all contracts governing the complex.

One expert on North Korea said yesterday, “North Korea is nothing less than a robber,” indicating that the North’s detention of the Hyundai Asan worker March 30 was to smooth the way for its request for wage increases. Pyongyang`s refusal of access to the worker by his family and attorneys for 49 days is inhumane, the expert added.

A government official also said, “To gain more benefits such as resumption of humanitarian aid to the North, Pyongyang is seeking contact with Seoul by linking the release of the detained worker and the wage hikes. This is a typical brinksmanship tactic used by the North.”

"If the government and the public react in a united voice with preparation for the closure of the industrial complex, North Korea will voluntarily come to the negotiating table.”

If the North pushes wage hikes for its workers, companies in the complex have no choice but to pull out from the complex, other experts say. In this case, the government should shut down the complex after compensating the companies for damage with inter-Korean cooperation funds.

▽ High-level talks are the only solution

Those in favor of inter-Korean high-level talks say North Korean officials in charge of the complex can only review regulations and contracts on the operation of the complex. So the director-level talks that have been held should be elevated to vice minister or minister level, and the agenda should include the release of the detained worker, the resolution of matters on passage, communication and customs procedure, and the institutionalization of the safety of South Koreans in North Korean territory, they say.

They say both sides can give and take what each of them wants and then the talks can expand into covering the implementation of inter-Korean agreements. The government’s offer to hold the high-level talks, however, could face criticism from conservatives if the North refuses.

To prepare for a situation of the North insisting on the wage hikes, the government is also considering subsidizing ailing companies in the complex to maintain the inter-Korean joint venture.

A high-ranking Seoul official said yesterday, “If the North significantly raises wages, certain companies will greatly suffer.”

“The government will weigh letting them withdraw from the complex according to economic logic or maintain the complex by helping them with subsidies. This will be a very difficult decision for the government.”

▽ Prepare for all contingencies

High-ranking officials of the Unification Ministry have worked weekends and held meetings on countermeasures.

Vice ministry spokesman Lee Jong-ju told reporters Saturday, “The government’s stance to maintain the complex remains the same despite the North’s unilateral action,” adding, “All pending issues related to the joint complex will be dealt with through dialogue, which is the basic stance of the government.”

Seoul will urge Pyongyang to release the Hyundai Asan worker regardless of the North’s acceptance of the second inter-Korean talks scheduled for today in Kaesong.