SEOUL, 15 JULY: North and South Korea today started fresh talks on re-opening a joint industrial complex whose fate is seen as a touchstone for the future reduction of tension on the Korean peninsula.
The talks began at around 10 a.m. (0100 GMT) after two previous meetings earlier this month failed to produce agreement on how to revive the Kaesong industrial park, which was suspended amid high cross-border tensions.
“I’ll do my best to re-open Kaesong and develop it into an international industrial park”, South Korea’s chief delegate Kim Ki-Woong told journalists before talks started.
Mr Kim replaced Mr Suh Ho in what was described as a regular reshuffle ahead of the talks, held at the Seoul-invested industrial zone some 10 km north of the heavily-fortified border.
The zone ~ opened in 2004 as a rare symbol of cross-border cooperation ~ had long remained resilient to turbulence in ties but eventually became the most high-profile victim of the latest flare-up.
The North, citing perceived hostility by the South and its joint army exercises with the USA, in April withdrew all its workers and banned entry by southerners, prompting Seoul to pull out its managers in early May.
At a rare meeting earlier this month, the two sides agreed in principle to reopen the estate, where 53,000 North Koreans worked in 123 Seoul-owned factories producing textiles or light industrial goods.
But little progress has been made since then amid squabbles over which side will take responsibility for the suspension and the North’s refusal to accept Seoul’s demand for firm safeguards against shutting Kaesong down unilaterally.
Seoul also seeks to allow foreign firms to operate in Kaesong in an apparent bid to make it more difficult for Pyongyang to shutter the zone by insulating it from changes in inter-Korea relations.
The talks ~ even though fruitless so far ~ are a contrast to months of cross-border friction and threats of war by Pyongyang after its February nuclear test attracted tougher UN sanctions.
Pyongyang last Wednesday proposed separate meetings to discuss the resumption of suspended cross-border tours to its scenic Mount Kumgang resort and the reunion of families separated by the Korean War.
But it retracted its proposal a day later after Seoul only accepted the offer of talks on family reunions while refusing to discuss the Mount Kumgang tours ~ once a valued source of hard currency for the impoverished communist state.
On Saturday, North Korea warned that the fate of the Kaesong talks would affect overall inter-Korean relations.
“Unless the Kaesong Industrial Complex issue is resolved, there cannot be any progress in inter-Korean relations,” the North said in a statement carried by its official state media.