S. Korean official expresses need to find indirect way of reopening Kaesong Industrial Complex

Posted on : 2019-01-12 16:44 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Workers’ wages would need to be paid in kind instead of cash to avoid UN sanctions
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha during her interview with the Hankyoreh at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Seoul on Dec. 24. (Park Jong-shik
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha during her interview with the Hankyoreh at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Seoul on Dec. 24. (Park Jong-shik

A high-ranking official of the South Korean government has spoken of the need to find an indirect way of reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex and resuming tourism to Mt. Kumgang without violating the international community’s sanctions on North Korea, which effectively ban sending bulk cash to the North. This suggests that Seoul is looking into various ways to reinstate these two programs, which can be regarded as symbols of inter-Korean cooperation.

“In order to enable the reopening of the Kaesong Complex, we have to get an exemption from [UN Security Council] sanctions, which means we need to find a way to prevent bulk cash from going [to North Korea],” the official told reporters during a meeting on Jan. 10, with the caveat that this was the official’s personal opinion. This is taken to mean that, for the Kaesong Complex to be reopened, South and North Korea need to discuss ways to pay workers’ wages in kind instead of in cash so as to avoid the UN Security Council’s ban on bulk cash.

When asked whether reopening the Kaesong Complex and resuming tourism to Mt. Kumgang was a card that the US could play in its negotiations with North Korea, the official said, “a deal would be possible” but added that “we still have a long process left.” At the same time, this official said that tourism to Mt. Kumgang “seems a little different” and would be easier than the Kaesong Complex. In that case, the official predicted, resolving the sanctions issue would not be so difficult.

During a meeting with members of the Democratic Party’s special action committee for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula on Jan. 11, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa commented on reopening the Kaesong Complex. “I think we’ll have to see if there’s a way to resolve the Kaesong Complex issue without an influx of cash,” Kang was quoted as saying by Rep. Kim Han-jeong, committee secretary.

“I presume this would be linked to [North Korea] moving forward with measures on denuclearization and that it would require an agreement that would satisfy related countries and the international community,” Kang was also quoted as saying.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in also touched on the topic during his New Year’s press conference on Jan. 10: “The Kaesong Industrial Complex and tourism to Mt. Kumgang are in the interest of both South and North Korea. We warmly welcome North Korea’s determination to resume these projects without any price or conditions. Our next task is resolving the issue of international sanctions, and we will work with the US and the rest of the international community to quickly deal with that.” This suggests that the South Korean government is placing a considerable priority on resuming these two projects.

In regard to the second North Korea-US summit, Kim said, “Minister Kang and the committee members share the opinion that, once the location has been confirmed, the summit can be held after a few weeks of necessary preparations.” As for the location of the summit, Kang was quoted as saying that “The South Korean government has not detected any indications that North Korea or the US are sending teams to inspect sites. Our understanding is that they are discussing a number of potential sites.”

In the material distributed to the press, Kang wrote that she would “not rule out that the second North Korea-US summit might be announced unexpectedly,” but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs explained that Kang didn’t actually read that section aloud during the meeting.

The high-ranking government official said that the high-level talks to prepare for the North Korea-US summit would take place with Workers’ Party of Korea Central Committee Vice Chairman Kim Yong-chol visiting New York rather than US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visiting North Korea. The official said that North Korea-US talks could conceivably be held during or around the extended holiday for the Lunar New Year, which falls on Feb. 5.

By Park Min-hee and Seo Yeong-ji, staff reporters

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

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