Northern Strategy Undermining Kaesong

South Korean Minister of Unification Ryoo Kihl Jae, appearing today before the National Assembly Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee as part of an audit of the incumbent administration, revealed, “The North has notified us that ‘Under the current circumstances, it would be inappropriate to host the investment expo.’” The North Korean notification, in effect cancelling the event designed to help “internationalize” the Kaesong Industrial Complex, came four days after Seoul sent a message of its own expressing negative sentiment about the joint undertaking.

The joint event had initially been agreed upon by the two Koreas at a meeting of the “North-South Joint Committee” on September 10th, and is seen by Seoul as one element in the “developmental normalization” of the Kaesong Complex. Other key elements are the so-called “Three Tongs”: passage, communications, and customs.

However, in reality there has been very little progress on any of these issues since the Kaesong Complex was originally restarted. Two subcommittee meetings, on September 16th and 26th, were postponed by North Korea, which has not yet responded to South Korean calls to reschedule them. Some South Korean experts suspect that North Korea simply agreed to internationalize the complex, as well as saying it would allow the use of mobile phones and the Internet within the complex itself, in order to restart it, but did not intend to adhere to the agreement.

Equally, there is the suspicion in some areas that North Korea is primarily concerned with Mt. Geumgang tourism, and that its reluctance to engage with developing Kaesong is partly due to Seoul’s own reluctance to restart trips to the east coast mountain resort.

Oh Gyeong Seob, a researcher with the Sejong Institute, explained to Daily NK, “Mt. Geumgang tourism is the most important thing for Kim Jong Eun, who wants to get South Korean tourists to come to Masikryeong Skiing Ground, one of North Korea’s key state projects. North Korea, whose primary motivation in restarting the KIC is to bring in dollars, appears to be controlling the speed of the Complex for the sake of the Mt. Geumgang issue.”

He went on, “Because North Korea sees no benefit in improving North-South relations, they will continue to only take those steps that bring them practical profit.”

Another expert on the North, who requested anonymity, added, “North Korea is only considering the need to get dollars from the KIC. They won’t engage in other discussions that are unfavorable to them. Going forward, North Korea’s attitude must be observed, but North Korea wants to show that there is the possibility that it could change its mind on those promises it previously made with the South at anytime, depending on domestic and international factors.”

“We can say that North Korea is taking a very negative stance on other developmental issues bar the restarting of Kaesong itself,” the expert added.

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