Officials from North and South Korea resumed crucial talks yesterday about reopening a shuttered factory park that the rivals jointly ran until Pyongyang pulled out its workers in April.
The industrial complex just north of the heavily armed border in Kaesong, North Korea’s third-largest city, had been the last symbol of cooperation between the Koreas until Pyongyang halted operations during a torrent of threats earlier this year that included vows of nuclear strikes on Washington and Seoul.
Six rounds of talks on restarting operations there went nowhere, and the last meeting ended in a scuffle between North Korean and South Korean delegates.
Ties have improved somewhat in recent weeks, and North Korean media have published recent articles expressing eagerness for better relations. However, there is still skepticism the Koreas can settle their differences and put aside the animosity that had both countries trading threats in March and April.
Seoul has been pushing for Pyongyang to provide guarantees that it will not unilaterally shut down Kaesong when tensions rise again.
The industrial park combined South Korean initiative, capital and technology with cheap North Korean labor. It was also a rare source of hard currency for North Korea, although the economically depressed country chafed at suggestions that it needed the money Kaesong generated.
The talks come a day before a holiday in both Koreas that celebrates independence from Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule. Next week, Seoul and Washington plan a massive joint military drill. Pyongyang used a previous routine drill between the allies, along with UN sanctions over its February nuclear test, to justify its outburst of threatening rhetoric in March and April.
The decade-old industrial park had survived previous periods of tension, including attacks blamed on Pyongyang that killed 50 South Koreans in 2010, and the shutdown of other big cooperation projects.
By the end of last year, South Korean companies had produced a total of US$2 billion of goods during the previous eight years.
North Korea is estimated to have received US$80 million in workers’ salaries last year, an average of US$127 a month per person, paid in US dollars, the South Korean Ministry of Unification said.