SEOUL: North and South Korea on Monday started fresh talks on reopening 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. 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 reopen Kaesong and develop it into an international industrial park,” South Korea’s chief delegate Kim Ki-Woong told journalists before talks started.
Kim replaced Suh Ho in what was described as a regular reshuffle ahead of the talks, held at the Seoul-invested industrial zone some 10 kilometers 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 US, 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.
“[We] should develop the Kaesong into an international industrial complex by allowing . . . business activities of foreign companies as well as South Korean firms,” Kim said at the beginning of the latest talks.
The North insists that the complex should be restarted “as soon as possible,” blaming Seoul’s “hostile policy” for the months-long suspension and the current deadlock in negotiations.