S.Korea in Bind Over Border Closure, Academics Say

      March 17, 2009 11:38

      Experts agreed Monday that the biggest problem South Korea faces with North Korea's random closures of the border is that Seoul lacks decisive means or leverage to prevent them.

      "We must keep trying to talk to North Korea behind the scenes," said Prof. Nam Joo-hong of Kyonggi University. "If direct contract is difficult, we must try to find out what the North wants through either China or the United States." Prof. Kim Yong-hyun of Dongguk University said, "We have to try and get China to persuade the North." And Prof. Yoo Ho-yeol of Korea University said, "We should open dialogue with the North taking advantage of the current situation involving the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex."

      Over a solution to the problem of the Kaesong industrial park issue, they were divided into two groups, one calling for a review of the whole project, the other warning that threatening to close what is a significant cash cow for the North could make things worse.

      If North Korea decided to close the Kaesong complex, there is nothing the South could do about it, said Prof. Nam. He called for preparations to withdraw South Korean companies operating there and suspend exchanges.

      Prof. Kim Sung-han of Korea University suggested a step-by-step approach depending on North Korean attitude. A basic review of the industrial complex is needed, he said, if South Koreans working there are again effectively detained after the joint South Korean-U.S. military drills end on Mar. 20. If a South Korean firm in the industrial park has to suspend operations because accords between the North and South Korean authorities are not observed, it is eligible for compensation of up to W5 billion (US$1=W1,440.)

      Meanwhile, former vice unification minister Lee Bong-jo said Pyongyang has made it clear the border is closed until Mar. 20, when the military exercises end. "We have to deal with the situation calmly without aggravating it," he added. Kim Yeon-chul, the head of the Hankyoreh Foundation for Reunification and Culture, called for a change the government's North Korea policy.

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