Was Choi Sun-sil behind the closing of the Kaesong Industrial Complex?

Posted on : 2016-10-27 16:56 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Government denies involvement of Pres. Park’s close confidante, but Choi may have spurred policy change
Workers and representatives of Kaesong Industrial Complex tenant companies shout slogans calling for compensation from the government and the restarting of operations at the complex
Workers and representatives of Kaesong Industrial Complex tenant companies shout slogans calling for compensation from the government and the restarting of operations at the complex

Evidence is emerging that Choi Sun-sil, whose proximity to South Korean President Park Geun-hye gave her inappropriate influence over the administration, was also involved in developing major policies related to unification, foreign affairs and security, including the resumption of propaganda broadcasts to North Korea and the complete shutdown of the Kaesong Industrial Complex. Since news broke about the Choi Sun-sil scandal, not only pundits but also government officials are starting to clear away some of the mystery surrounding the dubious way in which these policies were decided.

On Jan. 7, the day after North Korea’s fourth nuclear test, the South Korean government decided to resume propaganda broadcasts against North Korea by means of loudspeakers located next to the demilitarized zone. Multiple government officials at the time thought that this was a rash decision to make.

“That morning, the mood was not in favor of resuming propaganda broadcasts to North Korea, but the mood suddenly changed that afternoon,” one official said.

“I’ve heard that the decision wasn’t made in the official channels at the Blue House National Security Office,” another official said. Many suspected that the decision had been made by President Park on the recommendation of one of the so-called “doorknob triumvirate.”

The complete shutdown of the Kaesong Industrial Complex also occurred in a similar manner. Until early February, the Blue House and the government had held to the position that the Kaesong Complex would not be used as leverage against North Korea. Furthermore, the decision to completely suspend the Kaesong Complex on Feb. 10 turned out to have been made despite the position of the Unification Ministry, the relevant government body, that operations at the complex should be suspended “provisionally and temporarily.”

While the decision to shut down the complex was ostensibly made during a national security meeting on Feb. 10 presided over by Blue House National Security Director Kim Kwan-jin, sources say that Park had already made up her mind on the issue by Feb. 8 or. 9. No discussion of the Kaesong Complex took place during the national security meeting that Park presided over on Feb. 7.

While Park is said to have been the one to decide on the term “complete suspension,” which is not in general use, there is ample reason to think that Choi Sun-sil may have been involved. “Around the time that the Kaesong Complex was shut down, Choi Sun-sil would often say that the unification of the peninsula would take place within the next two years,” said a source who often saw Choi.

This is tied in with the idea of the North Korean regime collapsing, which is thought to be behind Park’s hardline policies toward North Korea, including the shutdown of the Kaesong Complex. The phrase “unification jackpot” that Park first used during her New Year’s press conference in 2014 was also reportedly not proposed by any of the relevant government ministries.

Lee Sung-han, former secretary-general of the Mir Foundation, told the Hankyoreh during an interview that “the shutdown of the Kaesong Complex and other government policies” was one of the topics discussed in a series of closed-door meetings led by Choi Sun-sil.

In connection with this, there had been much speculation that First Personal Secretary Jeong Ho-seong (who is believed to have been Park and Choi’s go-between) had been closely involved with unification, diplomatic and security policy since the transitional committee that prepared for Park’s term in office. Several current and former officials say that after they submitted their reports to Park (who does not receive face-to-face briefings), Jeong was usually the person who confirmed whether Park had read them.

The government denies the charges that Choi was involved in framing unification, diplomatic and security policy. “A consensus had formed inside the government about the necessity of completely shutting down the Kaesong Complex [after North Korea‘s fourth nuclear test and long-range missile launch]. Following deliberations between related departments, the final decision was made in the national security meeting on the morning of Feb. 10,” said South Korean Unification Ministry Spokesperson Jeong Joon-hee during the regular press briefing on Oct. 26.

“The issue of the Kaesong Complex was decided through deliberations in the government that followed protocol,” Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo said in a hearing before the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee on Oct. 26.

But the information that has been recently made public in the Choi Sun-sil scandal suggests that, except for a few key figures in the Blue House, the Blue House and other ministries were in the dark about Choi‘s manipulation of the government.

By Kim Jin-cheol and Kim Eui-gyum, staff reporters

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]


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