North Korea yesterday blasted South Korea’s “arrogant” attitude after talks on salvaging the jointly-run Kaesong industrial zone collapsed, sparking a shoving match between officials from both sides.
The North also accused the South of using “delaying tactics” by demanding that Pyongyang take responsibility for the closure of the estate and compensate for financial losses.
“The North side made every possible effort to prevent the talks from not making any results, but the South side persisted in its arrogant stand, pushing the talks to the point of stalemate,” the North’s Korean Central News Agency said in a commentary.
“The South side can never escape its responsibility for all the aftermaths to be entailed by its move of having pushed the talks to a deadlock,” it said.
The failure of both sides to set a date for another meeting after a sixth round of discussions on Thursday on reviving Kaesong was compounded by a pushing match that broke out between North and South officials.
At the end of the talks, 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.
North Korea had relocated its military facilities in order to make room for the zone, which opened in 2004.
Pak’s unscheduled news conference sparked a rare shoving match between South and North Korean officials, according to pool reports.
When Pak barged into the press room without notice, 20 North Korean officials shut down elevators or stood guard around him.
Minutes later, a dozen South Korean officials ran down from the conference hall in an attempt to stop Pak, denouncing him for ignoring a protocol.
Pool pictures showed North and South Korean officials grabbing, pushing and shoving each other.
Seoul refuted the North’s accusations, saying it should change its attitude and give a firm pledge to prevent another work stoppage.
“Our demand for safeguards ... is not something that North Korea can reject,” Kim Hyung-suk, spokesman for the South Korean Ministry of Unification, said yesterday.
Production at the Seoul-funded estate, 10km over the border, has been suspended since North Korea withdrew its 53,000 workers from the South’s 123 factories in April.
Talks on reopening it have been dominated by mutual recriminations over who was to blame for the shutdown.
The South wants North Korea to accept responsibility and give a written guarantee that it will never happen again.
The North says it was not responsible for the shutdown, arguing that its hand was forced by hostile South Korean actions and intimidation — in particular, a series of joint military exercises with the US.
Kaesong was an important source of hard currency for the impoverished North through taxes, other revenues and its cut of workers’ wages.
The joint complex, which had survived previous cross-border crises, was the most high-profile casualty of two months of elevated tensions that followed a nuclear test by the North in February, which sparked international condemnation.
South Korean managers say they have suffered production losses of about US$1 billion, and have criticized the two sides for making a political football of their businesses.
Some have threatened to pull out of the complex permanently unless operations resume soon.