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[Editorial] Don’t Succumb to N. Korea’s Demands

Posted June. 12, 2009 07:28,   


The plot behind why North Korea began complaining over the Kaesong industrial complex last year is now clear. The North yesterday demanded that monthly wages for North Korean employees at the complex be raised from an average 75 dollars to 300 dollars, and an additional 500 million dollars for rental of the property.

Money is the reason behind the North’s offensive that started in March last year, with the expulsion of 11 South Korean officials at the Inter-Korean Exchanges and Cooperation Consultation Office. As part of its scheme, Pyongyang has detained a Hyundai Asan Corp. employee for 75 days. This is tantamount to holding a hostage for an outrageous ransom.

Just like in the first working-level meeting between the Koreas May 21, the North yesterday talked only about money, ignoring the plight of the detained employee. This is the real face of the North, which refers to “our people” whenever it wages an offensive against the South. Pyongyang’s behavior is unacceptable even from a humanitarian perspective.

The Kaesong complex has begun to collapse due to the North’s continued offensive. A fur company Monday announced plans to leave the complex, a first among South Korean enterprises there. Their exports in the first four months of the year fell 56.1 percent year-on-year, and production decreased 6.6 percent. The number of employees in the complex has dropped 43 percent over the last three months.

Researcher Cho Bong-hyeon of IBK Economic Research Institute in Seoul warned that if the North asks for an average salary of 200 dollars per month in the complex, an amount equivalent to that of China, only three of some 100 companies in the complex can survive. If the North seeks 150 dollars, around 30 companies can continue there. If Seoul accepts Pyongyang’s wage demand of 300 dollars, all South Korean companies in the complex will be forced out.

An entrepreneur decided to withdraw from the complex because of losses and fears over employee safety. If the detained employee is not released and the North does not promise to detain South Korean staff again, jitters will remain at South Korean companies in the complex.

Seoul must reject this “dumbfounding” bill from Pyongyang. The South must make the North clearly realize that unless the detainee is released, it will not talk. Seoul said, “The detention of the employee is the essence of the issue related to the Kaesong Industrial Complex,” so it could make this a precondition for resuming inter-Korean talks June 19.

The U.N. Security Council is responding to North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations with a strong resolution. This is not the time to give a raise to North Korean workers as the North demands or grant 500 million dollars in additional rent.