South Korean businessmen with plants in the shuttered North-South industrial estate of Kaesong suggested on Tuesday that North Korea had made some tangible concessions in negotiations to reopen the complex.
In a statement urging both governments to resolve the issue as soon as possible, the association representing the 123 South Korean firms in Kaesong said the North’s proposal at the sixth round of talks last week had been “forward-looking”.
“We judge that most of the agenda of the [South Korean] government has been reflected in the North’s proposal,” the association said.
The statement was issued after South Korea on Sunday proposed a “final” round of talks, suggesting it would pull the plug on any further negotiations if the current deadlock could not be broken.
The North had not responded as of Tuesday.
The main sticking point is the South’s insistence that the North provide a binding guarantee that it would not close the complex again in the future.
The North has rejected the demand, arguing that ultimate responsibility for Kaesong’s closure lay with the South.
Operations at the complex, which lies 10 kilometers (six miles) inside North Korea, ground to a halt after the North withdrew its 53,000 workers from the South’s factories in April as military tensions soared.
The North says its hand was forced by hostile South Korean actions and intimidation— in particular, a series of joint military exercises it held with the United States.
Built in 2004 as a rare symbol of cooperation, Kaesong was an important hard currency source for the impoverished North through taxes, other revenues, and its cut of workers’ wages.
At the sixth round of talks, the North reportedly suggested the two sides insulate Kaesong against political surges and that the two sides refrain from any activity harmful to the smooth running of the complex.
While the South’s business owners suggested this was progress of sorts, their statement backed Seoul’s stand on the need for assurances from Pyongyang.
“The North must give an unconditional guarantee against a recurrence [of the shutdown],” the statement said.
The end of the sixth round did not bode well for a breakthrough.
Delegates from both sides engaged in a shoving match after the North Koreans barged into a South Korean press room, handed out documents detailing their proposals and held an impromptu press conference, denouncing the South’s “arrogance”.
The North’s chief delegate Pak Chol-Su told South Korean reporters that the North’s military may re-occupy the estate unless the two sides work out a solution.