Reopening Kaesong Complex Requires Fundamental Overhaul

      July 05, 2013 14:07

      The government on Thursday agreed to hold talks with North Korea to discuss the possible reopening of the inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex. North Korea accepted the proposal.

      North Korea stormed out in a huff and vowed never to speak to the South again after preparations for cross-border talks broke down last month over the rank of delegates. But on Wednesday afternoon manufacturers with factories in the complex held a press conference saying they want to get their equipment out and take their business somewhere else.

      That seems to have prompted the North to announce later that day that it will allow the manufacturers to go to Kaesong and inspect their facilities. To get the message across, the North even reconnected a hotline with the South it had severed after cross-border talks were abruptly canceled last month.

      Judging by these latest moves, it seems North Korea does not want to see the Kaesong Industrial Complex shut down permanently. That is probably wise given that around 53,000 North Koreans worked at the complex, and the North earned a handsome US$80-90 million a year in cash from the joint venture.

      The manufacturers urgently need to inspect their equipment, which has been idling for months and must now weather the relentless monsoon humidity.

      But if the complex is to reopen, fundamental changes need to ensure that North Korea cannot keep using it as a political pawn or hold South Korean staff to ransom. Their safety must be guaranteed. Without that, South Korean and foreign buyers will not want to place any more orders with the manufacturers.

      Things are not that difficult if the North is truly willing to put efforts to reopen the complex, but Pyongyang must fundamentally change its attitude to the inter-Korean project.

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