Kaesong Acting as Canary in Mine

The unilateral closure of the Kaesong Industrial Complex by the North Korean authorities may have been triggered by the fact that many ordinary North Korean citizens, just like some in the wider world, have come to see it as a good proxy for the risk of conflict breaking out on the Korean Peninsula.

As such, despite recent state-led efforts to generate fear over the possibility of war, there was a tendency for ordinary North Koreans to assume that “as long as Kaesong keeps operating” nothing was likely to happen. Therefore, the authorities felt compelled to close it.

A North Hamkyung Province source, citing a provincial Party cadre, reported the story to Daily NK on the 22nd, saying, “Who would have trusted the claim that South Korea and the U.S. were going to attack us when the Kaesong Complex was still operational? He told me that ‘the majority of people thought that there couldn’t be war if they were hearing that Kaesong was working normally, and therefore we took this decision.’”

The source added, “Even during the combat mobilization training period (in February and March), Party cadres were always saying that it was difficult for them because people thought that ‘the Kaesong Complex means that war will not break out.’”

“They were hearing from family or friends that Kaesong was working, and the South Chosun workers in Kaesong also told us that war would not break out, making people more distrustful of the war propaganda,” the source went on.

As expected, the existence of a nationwide cellular network makes it easier for news of the status of Kaesong to spread, the source confirmed. “People who then spoke of war were laughed at because hundreds of South Chosun citizens were crossing the MDL (Military Demarcation Line) everyday,” he said.

“People working in Kaesong also asked why we were going crazy preparing for war when people in South Chosun seemed perfectly fine’,” the source concluded. “People are now more worried that Kaesong will permanently close in this atmosphere.”