Another North Korean Bluff

It has been four months since Mt. Geumgang tours were suspended and inter-Korean relations entered a stalemate due to North Korea’s policy of attempting to subdue the Lee administration. Further, North Korean state media have lately been suggesting the potential implications of their threats to both suspend business in the Kaesong Industrial Complex and suspend all Kaesong tours.

On the 2nd of last month, at the North-South military working group meetings, North Korea brought up the spreading of leaflets by South Korean NGOs to North Korea and implied that such actions would have certain repercussions for the Kaesong businesses. On the 16th, Rodong Shinmun mentioned a complete interruption of inter-Korean relations.

Now the fact has emerged that on the 6th November the Policy Manager of the National Defense Commission of North Korea Kim Young Cheol visited the Kaesong Complex and asked the South Korean staff how long it would take to withdraw, which raised suspicions that the North was indeed preparing to suspend business.

Furthermore, on the 11th of this month, North Korean authorities reorganized and cut down the scale of the National Economic Cooperation Commission, re-named it the National Economic Council and shifted its office from the Cabinet into the Party, according to Economic Research Institute of the Industrial Bank of Korea researcher Cho Bong Hyung.

In Cho’s analysis, North Korea will conduct South-North economic cooperation not according to economic principles, but according to political principles through direct Party management, and is willing to utilize it for political purposes.

Regarding this development, Jung Seh Hyun, the Standing Chairman of the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation and a former Minister of Unification in South Korea, urged on the same day that the South Korean administration prepare a way to respond to it, claiming that “the comments of Kim Young Cheol on the withdrawal of South Korean staff from the Kaesong Complex is perfectly feasible as a tactic of psychological warfare.”

National Assemblywoman Song Young Sun predicted that if North Korea pushes the South to withdraw staff and related personnel, it may then gradually heighten the degree of pressure by stages: from suspension of the Kaesong tours, then withdrawal of the right to enter Kaesong from the South, curtailment of the Southern staff and eventually the complete suspension of the Kaesong Complex.

On the other hand, however, an affiliate with the South Korean administration pointed out on the 11th that, “(In the North) the business of the Kaesong Industrial Complex is considered a great achievement by Kim Jong Il, so it cannot be suspended. He added that the South Korean government has plans to add 100 buses for workers in the Kaesong Complex and to construct kindergartens and trash burners.

Despite the North pressurizing the South, non-official communications now under way in Kaesong are seemingly normal.

50,000 briquettes and 40 tons of rice were sent to residents in Kaesong by a South Korean social organization, and the third South-North joint excavation research project at “Manwaldae,” ruins of the Goryeo period, started earlier this month.

Staff of the Korean Tourism Organization in charge of North Korean tours said that the tours are proceeding as usual, although the number of tourists has decreased when compared to the first tours. Hyundai Asan also states that nothing has changed among North Korean guides.

A researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy Kim Hans Suk analyzed the situation thus, “It is just to press the Lee Myung Bak administration to change its policy towards North Korea, such as leading it to follow the June 15 Agreement and the October 4 Declaration. The Kaesong Complex and tours are a practical source of foreign currency for North Korea, so the North cannot withdraw Southern entrepreneurs permanently.”

He added that, “The Lee administration should not be embroiled in the North’s brinkmanship tactics anymore. Although North Korea is trying to send the South back from Kaesong, the South should not fall into this trap. The Kaesong complex is worth more to the North than to the South.”