North and South Korea yesterday failed to reach an agreement on reopening a jointly run industrial estate, dimming hopes of an early improvement in ties after months of friction.
A third round of talks about the complex, which followed two failed attempts this month, again ended without agreement, Seoul’s lead delegate Kim Ki-woong said.
However, the two sides will meet again tomorrow, he told reporters.
The latest meeting was held at the suspended Kaesong industrial complex, which opened in 2004 10km north of the heavily fortified border as a rare symbol of cooperation. The zone had long remained resilient to turbulence in ties, but became the most high-profile victim of the latest flare-up following Pyongyang’s nuclear test in February.
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 complex, where 53,000 North Koreans worked in 123 Seoul-owned factories producing textiles or light industrial goods.
Yet 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.
“The South came up with the ludicrous idea of ‘internationalizing’ Kaesong. It is not even worth discussing because lack of foreign firms ... is not the reason behind the current crisis,” its official Web site said in an editorial yesterday.
The talks — even though fruitless — are a contrast to months of friction and threats of war by Pyongyang.
“Unless the Kaesong Industrial Complex issue is resolved, there cannot be any progress in inter-Korean relations,” the North said on Saturday.
Many Seoul businessmen with factories in Kaesong have threatened to leave the complex permanently if the suspension continues.