Should We Continue Cooperation with N.Korea?

      May 18, 2009 12:55

      Inter-Korean relations have been strained by the prolonged detention of South Korean worker at the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex. The detention has not only harmed the industrial park project but also stopped South Korea from participating in the Proliferation Security Initiative. In these circumstances, should we continue to implement inter-Korean cooperation projects and agreements?

      Inter-Korean economic cooperation is not merely aimed at helping small and medium-sized businesses regain competitiveness. It is also intended to help North Korea reform and open up. But any change in the North remains elusive. Instead, economic cooperation generates dollars that prop up the regime.

      The recent North Korean rocket launch is said to have cost US$400-500 million. Yet due to the annual food shortage of over 1 million tons, millions of North Koreans are starving. Had the North used the money it spends on missiles for rational purposes, it would have been able to solve its food shortage for at least two years. The North has effectively developed its missile technology by starving millions of people. Even if the missiles were developed for peaceful purposes, the North cannot escape moral censure.

      The South Korean identified as Yoo who was arrested for spying is essentially being held hostage to political and military purposes, and with him the entire project. We must ask whether it makes sense to continue economic cooperation in this situation. If we do continue, we need rock-solid guarantees of safe travel and transport, communication and customs clearance as well as the personal safety of South Korean staff.

      In addition, South Korean firms should be able to decide whom to hire and what to pay if they must accept North Korean manpower only. The businesses cannot currently achieve any long-term improvement of labor productivity and constantly have the threat of suspended labor supply hanging over their heads.

      The June 15, 2000 Joint Declaration and the Oct. 4, 2007 Summit Declaration need reconsideration. Both lack legitimacy and public consent. The June 15 declaration was found to be illegal when it became clear that the Kim Dae-jung government had paid $500 million under the table. Why should we abide by a declaration won by illegal means?

      The Oct. 4 Declaration is also flawed. Adopted near the end of the Roh Moo-hyun administration, with it’s the burden passed whole to the next government, the accord was unreasonable. Projects stipulated in the declaration require a budget exceeding W10 trillion (US$1=W1,265). Under the basic law concerning inter-Korean relations, this requires parliamentary consent, but the Roh administration railroaded the declaration through, ignoring the legal provision.

      All in all, both declarations were made using illegal means. The declarations must be revised to accommodate public opinion. Conditions for implementation have to be examined closely. The timing of enforcement should be adjusted based on the feasibility and financial burden economic projects require. As a prerequisite to implementing the June 15 and Oct. 4 declarations, we need to insist that the North at least sticks to the 1992 Basic Agreement and the 1992 Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

      By Lee Doo-won, a professor of economics at Yonsei University

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