The Korea Herald


Minister urges North Korea to allow Kaesong CEOs visit

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : Oct. 26, 2017 - 16:18

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Seoul’s unification minister urged Pyongyang to grant South Korean businessmen safe access to the now-closed joint industrial zone in North Korea to examine their properties. 

Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon (Yonhap) Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon (Yonhap)

“The government has received the visitation request to North Korea submitted by South Korean firms behind the Kaesong industrial park on Oct. 12, hoping to get a firsthand look at the site,” Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon told a press conference Tuesday, which was embargoed until Thursday afternoon. There have been suspicions of the North’s unilateral resumption of the operation of factories within the industrial park.

“The government asks North Korea to prepare measures that guarantee the safety of (the businessmen) and the overall visit itself,” he said.

Cho stressed that his statement reflects the Kaesong operators’ hopes to check on their properties within the zone and should not be interpreted as the intention to reopen the complex under the current circumstances surrounding the North’s nuclear and missile programs.

Revival of the zone will be pursued carefully and gradually once the North’s nuclear issues enter a stage of resolution, he said.

Earlier this month, a group of 40 businessmen who ran factories and businesses at the joint industrial park asked Seoul to officially approve its visit to the border city of Kaesong, over growing suspicions of the North’s use of their assets without consent. The operators left most of their equipment behind as the previous government here had ordered the shutdown of the complex in 2016, on suspicions it was funding North Korea’s nuclear program.

The Moon Jae-in administration vowed to consider ways to deliver its message to its North Korean counterpart, but the reclusive regime swiftly addressed the statement with blatant criticism through its propaganda site, refusing to cooperate.

“South Korea does not have the right, reason, nor honor to talk about the issues surrounding the Kaesong Industrial Complex,” North Korea’s state-run propaganda outlet Uriminzokkiri said, on the day Seoul’s decision on the North Korean visits was to be announced.

A senior government official explained Tuesday that the delayed processing of visitation requests was largely due to North Korea’s negative reaction coupled with the ministry’s search for appropriate means of inter-Korean communication, in both legal and diplomatic terms.

The announcement for the Kaesong businessmen was to come on Oct. 20, but was canceled after the release of the North’s criticism.

“(As our citizens’ visits to North Korea) require official documents guaranteeing safety and crossing the military demarcation line, we have to secure confirmation from the North that it will handle the communication between respective military authorities,” the official said.

The official said that the government cannot technically stop South Korea’s wayward neighbor from infringing on property rights of local companies at the moment. The only viable option at the moment is to continue persuading the North to uphold the joint agreement which legally protects the investment of the local firms here, he said.

However, the official noted it is difficult to confirm whether the North has fully resumed operation of the complex, although certain movements have been detected via observatories near the border. The Unification Ministry recently revealed it has been aware of vehicle movement and the use of street lamps along with a hydroelectric power plant within and near the zone.

Regarding the situation surrounding North Korea’s weapons program, Cho highlighted US President Donald Trump’s state visit to South Korea in early November, along with the overall time frame leading up to spring 2018, as crucial factors that could trigger a change.

By Jung Min-kyung (