May 26, 2010 12:50
The government has asked businesses operating in North Korea's Kaesong Industrial Complex to halve the number of South Korean staff there and bring the rest back home by Thursday, cutting the number from between 900 and 1,000 a day to 500-600.
Halting all trade with North Korea on Monday as part of sanctions over the North's attack on the Navy corvette Cheonan, the Lee Myung-bak administration did not shut down the Kaesong industrial park. It seems that the government feels it would be strategically unwise to snuff out the last vestige of inter-Korean economic exchange, although South Korean businesses operating there stand to suffer.
Hundreds of South Korean workers are still at the Kaesong Industrial Complex. According to a Seoul-based group of experts from the North, O Kuk-ryol, the vice chief of North Korea's powerful National Defense Commission, last Thursday ordered the country's million-strong armed forces to get ready for combat. The North on Tuesday said it will construe any retaliation or sanctions by South Korea as "a phase in the war" and act accordingly. South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young on Monday said the South is prepared for the possibility that workers in Kaesong are held hostage.
It would not only be humiliating but tantamount to diplomatic suicide if North Korea tries to harm South Korean civilians at the Kaesong complex whose role is to aid the North's economy. If that happens, even China, which has been ignoring the conclusive evidence linking the North to the sinking of the Cheonan, may stop siding with Pyongyang.
Nevertheless, the government should take no chances and come up with watertight measures to ensure the South Koreans in Kaesong are safe. And if concerns remain, it must at least temporarily bring them home. South Korean businesses operating in the Kaesong complex should do everything they can to ensure the safety of their staff. The guarantee of corporate assets and profits should be left in the hands of the government; the top priority should be the safety of South Korean citizens.
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