May 15, 2013 12:49
President Park Geun-hye on Monday called for talks with North Korea to bring back products and raw materials left behind at the closed Kaesong Industrial Complex.
On May 3, the government paid Pyongyang US$13 million in back pay and negotiated with North Korean officials to get out finished products and raw materials in the factories. But the two sides failed to reach an agreement and Seoul pulled out the last seven South Koreans who had remained behind.
At the time the two sides agreed to hold further talks, but the North has yet to mention the subject 10 days after the complex was closed.
Many businesses that had been operating there are suffering from severe financial problems and hope for the complex to reopen or at least want to get back whatever is left in its factories at Kaesong. The primary purpose of Park's offer is to bring back the products and materials that belong to South Korean businesses.
In the past, North Korea has always demanded talks with the U.S. as a precondition for stopping its threats against South Korea. As a reward simply for halting its belligerent behavior, the North then demanded food and fuel aid from Washington. But U.S. President Barack Obama last week said he will no longer reward North Korea for its belligerence. North Korea must realize that the cycle of provocations and talks yielding aid no longer works.
There are signs that North Korea has simmered down for now, not least in the return of Chinese tourists to the reclusive country. It remains to be seen whether North Korea is willing to end its threats without extracting any aid from the U.S. or whether it intends to ratchet up tensions again.
If Pyongyang is looking for an exit strategy right now, accepting Park's offer of talks would be a good way to save face. Although the focus of Seoul's latest offer is the return of South Korean property, a successful meeting could pave the way for more dialogue in other areas.
It would not be constructive for North Korea to come to the dialogue table and act as if nothing had happened. Park said what is needed is not just the re-opening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex but a "safety mechanism" ensuring that Pyongyang abides by its pledges to the international community. The world will watch closely and see what North Korea has to offer.
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