Hopes fade for revival of joint Korean industrial zone


North Korea’s chief delegate Pak Chol-Su (right) shakes hands with his South Korean counterpart Kim Ki-Woong before a fourth round of talks at the Kaesong industrial complex in North Korea on Wednesday. AFP PHOTO

SEOUL: North and South Korea held fresh talks on Wednesday on reopening their joint industrial zone, with low hopes of an early agreement following months of friction.

A fourth round of talks over the complex, a rare symbol of cooperation between the two rivals, took place just across the border in the North. Three previous attempts this month all ended in deadlock.

“The weather is not so bad today. Do you think we will have good results today?” the North’s chief delegate Pak Chol-Su said at the start of the talks.

“I hope we’ll be able to build a house that can stand against any gusts of wind or pouring rains,” his South Korean counterpart Kim Ki-Woong replied, according to media pool report.

At a meeting earlier this month, the two sides agreed in principle to reopen the estate, where 53,000 North Koreans worked in 123 South-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 Pyongyang’s refusal to accept Seoul’s demand for firm safeguards against another unilateral shutdown.

Seoul also wants to allow foreign firms to operate in Kaesong in an apparent bid to make it more difficult for Pyongyang to shut the estate if relations worsen.

The North has called for an unconditional and quick restart, blaming Seoul’s “hostile policy” for the suspension and the current deadlock in negotiations.

“They kept talking past each other. These can hardly be called negotiations but deaf arguments,” said Chang Yong-Seok, senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification at Seoul National University.

Professor Yang Moo-Jin of the University of North Korean Studies said the fourth and fifth rounds of talks would serve as a “watershed” in attempts to rescue Kaesong, the last remaining symbol of reconciliation.

“Both sides feel pressure to produce some results before the US [United States]-South Korea joint military exercise, Ulji Freedom Guide, next month,” Yang said.

Kaesong was the most high-profile casualty of the months of elevated tensions that followed the North’s third nuclear test in February, the subsequent tightening of United Nations sanctions and US-South Korean military exercises.

Pyongyang on July 10 proposed separate meetings to discuss the resumption of suspended cross-border tours to its scenic Mount Kumgang resort, and the reunion of families separated since the Korean War.



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