Shenyang, China — “If North Korea had not experienced the great famine and economic crisis in late 1990s, North Korea would have already started dismantling the Kaesong Industrial Complex,” a North Korean high official stated in an interview with the Daily NK.
The Daily NK met the official from Pyongyang when he visited China on the 13th and talked about the current North Korean hard-line attitude. According to him, regardless of the leaflet issue the Kaesong Complex issue was just dealt with by the internal order. When a reporter of Daily NK asked about Kim Jong Il’s health condition, he responded, “Don’t ask about it.”
Daily NK tries to see through to the intent of North Korean authorities on the current pressure over the South via this interview with a North Korean high official.
– What is the reason that North Korea is trying to suspend the business in the Kaesong Industrial Complex?
In fact, the story about the suspension of the Kaesong Complex has emanated from Pyongyang since this fall, but it had been decided as an instruction of the Party in Pyongyang late last year.
It is hard to say conclusively what is happening in Kaesong, because there are so many complicated things at work. People from the Party in Pyongyang say that the Kaesong Complex and tourism should fall into disuse and the Mt. Geumgang tourism site should be left alone. Whether or not the Kaesong Complex is thrown away is only up to our economy condition and also the General (Kim Jong Il)’s decision.
– Is the General okay?
Yes. Don’t ask about it.
– What do you mean by “complicated things” regarding Kaesong?
When Mt. Geumgang tourism was first suggested, there was an idea to unfold Mt. Baikdu and Mt. Koowal and let Geumgang alone.
From late 1996 to early 1997, officials in economic fields suggested a plan to develop the tourist industry in order to earn foreign currency for the Party, but they were strongly criticized for anti-revolutionary actions in encouraging capitalist culture.
At the time, even at general lectures aimed at ordinary residents, the authorities released and stated publicly that the idea to make money through the tourist business came from ignoble motives to attract the corrupted capitalist culture into our society.
Sohn Sung Pil, who was an ambassador to Russia, and many other officials affiliated with the Foreign Trade General Bureau and the Chosun (North Korea) Tourist General Bureau were demoted and disappeared due to this suggestion. However, ironically, a year later, the Mt. Geumgang Tour started in an intensely surprising way. The Kaesong Industrial Complex started in the same manner.
There was much to be said at the beginning of the Kaesong businesses. Some officials insisted that we should have never opened the doors, although we had no choice other than eating only grassroots. The point that the target of the business was the South Chosun was more serious than the opinion that it could have attract the capitalist enterprises.
Therefore, there are many officials in Pyongyang who are skeptical about the Mt. Geumgang tour site and the Kaesong Complex. However, there are also surely some optimistic factions.
– Do you mean that instructions on the Kaesong Complex have already been decided internally by the Party?
Yes, you can say that. This was because at the beginning, they started it on in the precondition of switching workers once a year, but now they know that switching workers every year is impossible.
Additionally, rumors on South Chosun have been constantly circulating among workers and their families, so illusion of the South have now become uncontrollable among the people. The authorities cannot overlook this situation.
From the Party’s view, each worker in Mt. Geumgang and Kaesong is like a poster advertising capitalism. Due to them, our socialist system could be cracked.
As I know, at least 20 affiliates with Kaesong Complex came into questioning for advertising South Chosun and capitalism.
There was a thorough reshuffling in the Party last year. There is nobody who talks about Kaesong or Mt. Geumgang.
– So, why are they now talking about the suspension of the Kaesong Complex? Is it only to press the Lee Myung Bak administration?
Don’t consider it just as threatening words. We are coping with the situation. When the Party wrote the New Year’s Statement of this year, they took an optimistic view regarding the international situation. They thought that everything including the Six Party Talks was under the thumb of Chosun (North Korea), so the U.S. would have followed our actions.
They anticipated that we could have breathed a sigh of relief when the U.S. would have removed Chosun from its terrorism list and lifted the trade sanctions over Chosun in around May or June. Regarding the South’s position, they also believed that as long as relations with the U.S. would have been solved smoothly, South Chosun did not have any choice but to follow the U.S.’ move because Lee Myung Bak was known as a businessman who was able to make practical benefits.
However, in the spring the food situation took a turn for the worse, the U.S. delayed removing Chosun from the list and the Lee administration did not show its good faith to us. Therefore, the story of the suspension of the Kaesong Complex subsequently unfolded.
– Can North Korea ignore the abundant dollars from Kaesong in practice?
Frankly speaking, we have relied on it due to money. Even right now, if South Korea treats things like the Mt. Geumgang shooting accident flexibly and starts the tours again, everything is okay. The money we want does not need to come only from South Korea. There are Yuan, Rubles and dollars as well. They are all the same.
Although our economy is so terrible, we will not establish the national vision only targeted on making money. You should bear this point in mind.
– Is there any other alternatives if the Kaesong closes?
On the assumption that the state is optimistic, we have discussed two items regarding the closure of the Kaesong Complex.
First, developing Nampo as a special economic zone and Ra-Sun also as a special city like Hong Kong could be done through linking trains between Kaesong and Nampo and Kaesong and Ra-Sun (Rajin-Sunbong special zone). If transportation, electricity and trains are guaranteed, we don’t need to adamantly defend Kaesong.
In this case, we could lead the South’s enterprises to move into Nampo. There may be some conflicts with the South Chosun administration, but it will go ultimately according to our intention. If the railroad is open, Southern enterprises may flock to Nampo rather than to Rason.
Second, if the Lee administration tries to degrade relations with us, we plan to concentrate on Rason. We could operate it with the assistance of Russia and China. If Rason is thriving, the Southern enterprises will have interests in it and gather there.
– This way is unconvincing.
There is a rumor that the Vice President of China, Xi Jinping, promised to assist us with “one billion dollars” when he visited Pyongyang in June. We are now trying to receive assistance from Russia. We are not in a proper state yet to talk about Nampo. I don’t think it will be easy to open Nampo.
– So then, why does the North Korean Army make something out of the leaflets?
That is not a problem I can talk about. However, you surely have also something to gain through the leaflets. If our military does not anything about this issue, they could be hurt by the Party in Pyongyang through some inspections.
The Kaesong Industrial Complex matter is a decisive issue to choose between “money” and “socialism.” If relations with the U.S. had developed well and the economic crisis did not happen this year, we would have already rushed into dismantling the Kaesong Complex.