Friday, June 7, 2013

Another Round of Inter-Korean Talks? What for?

After repeatedly rejecting South Korea's offer to hold dialogue with the North, on June 6th 2013, the North Korean government proposed to begin ministerial-level talks with South Korea to discuss topics that cover topics that include the Kaesong Industrial Park, the resumption of South Korean tourists’ visit to Mount Kumgang, and the reunion of families separated since the Korean War.

I understand why the North Korean government would want South Korean businesses to reopen shop in Kaesong. The joint-venture employed about 53,000 North Korean workers, which meant that for a country that is as cash-strapped as North Korea, the revenues that Kaesong generated was vital.

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What I do not understand is why the South Korean government agreed to the North’s offer. It was the North Korean government that refused to allow South Korean workers into Kaesong. It was the North Korean government that pulled out its 53,000 workers from the complex in the first place. In order to make sure that every South Korean was forced to leave, it was the North Korean government that prevented a group of South Korean businessmen from delivering food and supplies to the South Korean workers who remained in the industrial complex after it had been effectively closed by orders of the North Korean government.

North Korea was the reason that the Kaesong Industrial Park failed. Now that the North Korean leadership is feeling the effects of beefed-up international sanctions and desperately needs money to prop up its regime, it is the North Koreans who are now coming to the negotiating table hat in hand.

Reopening the industrial park is of vital importance to the North Korean government. That’s obvious. But what does South Korea have to gain through reopening Kaesong?

Just as the closing of the Kaesong Industrial Park was the fault of the North Koreans, so was the closing of the Mount Kumgang Tourist Resort. That joint-venture failed in 2008 when a North Korean soldier shot and killed a South Korean tourist who was visiting the mountain. Instead of apologizing or showing remorse for the incident, the North Korean government shifted the blame to the South, claiming that it was a “product of a deliberate scheme” set up by the South Korean government.


Again, it is easy to understand why the North Koreans would want the tourist resort to reopen. It is estimated that more than a million South Korean tourists have visited the resort from when it was opened in 1998 until when it was shut down in 2008. But what does South Korea have to gain from reopening it?

Over the years, the North Koreans have time and again violated both inter-Korean agreements and international treaties whenever such actions benefited them regardless of the economic or political fallout that resulted anywhere else. There is no reason to believe that North Korea is going to stop that kind of behavior any time soon.

Seeing how South Korea has little to gain from this dialogue and even if it does make any tangible gains, there is a good probability that those gains will be anything but permanent, I ask again, why did South Korea agree to the North’s offer for talks?

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