Seoul demands talks with Pyongyang over Kaesong industrial complex

posted at 4:41 pm on April 25, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

“Demands” truly being the operative word here. Not only did South Korea insist that North Korea open talks on the status of the dormant joint facility — closed now for more than three weeks — they gave Pyongyang only 24 hours to respond, warning of “grave measures” if the Kim regime didn’t offer a positive response:

After weeks of threatening rhetoric from the North, South Korea on Thursday promised its own unspecified “grave measures” if Pyongyang rejects talks on a jointly run factory park shuttered for nearly a month.

The park in the North Korean border town of Kaesong is the most significant casualty so far in the recent deterioration of relations between the Koreas. Pyongyang barred South Korean managers and cargo from entering North Korea earlier this month, then recalled the 53,000 North Koreans who worked on the assembly lines.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry on Thursday proposed working-level talks on Kaesong and urged the North to respond by noon Friday, warning that Seoul will take “grave measures” if Pyongyang rebuffs the call for dialogue.

In a televised news conference, spokesman Kim Hyung-suk refused to say what those measures might be. Some analysts said Seoul would likely pull out the roughly 175 South Korean managers who remain at the complex.

The demand comes as a surprise, considering that the rhetoric and tensions had cooled a bit over the last couple of weeks. The issue should be more important to the North than the South; Kaesong had been one of their only legitimate sources of hard currency, while South Korea’s economy is healthy with or without Kaesong. However, almost 200 South Koreans remain in the complex, and they have been cut off from food, medicine, and supplies during the closure, which makes the humanitarian issue very acute.

The South wants the North to reopen the crossing so that they can resupply the managers, and so far the North hasn’t addressed the concern at all. In fact, they’ve been blocking access even for those purposes:

North Korea has denied South Korean workers and supplies entry to the industrial zone, located a few miles inside the border, accusing Seoul of using the project to insult its leadership. About 180 South Korean workers have chosen to stay there and are believed to be running out of food and supplies.

So what exactly are the “grave measures,” or “severe measures,” as CNN translated the statement?  No one is really quite sure, but it might be a demand to release the managers and the permanent abandonment of Kaesong:

That’s a big threat to Pyongyang, especially with the sanctions already in place.  The South pays the Kim regime $130 a month per worker in hard currency.  Symbolically, it’s even more significant.  This joint project is the crown jewel in the unification effort, and its abandonment puts an end to any effort to reconcile the North and South.  That would be embarrassing for Pyongyang, especially since 53,000 workers would at least know that they’re not going back to work any longer in that effort.

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Will work for food.

Jabberwock on April 25, 2013 at 4:49 PM

Kim’s position seems to have weakened considerably. As Ed pointed out, North Korea needs that income from Kaesong. If SK abandons Kaesong, Kim stands to lose a lot of money. Given that Kim’s threats of nuclear war seem to be totally empty, SK is in a good position for some pushback now.

Doomberg on April 25, 2013 at 4:50 PM

Stuff like this makes me keep wondering whether Kim Jong Un (or whoever’s yanking his chain) is just crazy enough to actually start a war. The blustering to get concessions is one thing, but this is counterproductive.

Oh, and if I were one of those 180 workers ‘choosing’ to stay, I’d get the heck out of Dodge while it’s still an option. If it still is. Nutty people will be nutty.

Fenris on April 25, 2013 at 4:55 PM

SK is in a good position for some pushback now.

Doomberg on April 25, 2013 at 4:50 PM

If SK puts too much emphasis on opening that park, they lose the negotiation. DPRK will re-open it at a heavy cost to SK.

SK MUST make it clear they are willing to walk away.

Jabberwock on April 25, 2013 at 5:02 PM

Pull those managers out before Kim decides to use them as hostages.
Shut the complex down.
Let North Korea starve.

rbj on April 25, 2013 at 5:04 PM

The demand comes as a surprise, considering that the rhetoric and tensions had cooled a bit over the last couple of weeks.

The rhetoric didn’t cool; we were just distracted by the Boston terrorists.

JackOfClubs on April 25, 2013 at 5:17 PM

DPRK will re-open it at a heavy cost to SK.

Jabberwock on April 25, 2013 at 5:02 PM

The norks need raw materials and customers in order for that to happen. Since they are under sanctions, that may be tough.

The norks already took over the other sunshine project, a vacation resort, it hasn’t reopened.

cozmo on April 25, 2013 at 5:18 PM

Pull those managers out before Kim decides to use them as hostages.
Shut the complex down.
Let North Korea starve.

rbj on April 25, 2013 at 5:04 PM

on the way out, smash every hard drive with a hammer, smash every water main, open all the gas valves and leave a lit candle somewhere…

Nobody would be killed.. but it’d make stealing a bit harder when all they have left is rubble..

and if they refuse the 180 safe passage,..

Let the ROK Rangers go get them.. with heavy air support. See if lardbutt is crazy enough to start a war that will free the north of his ghoul dynasty.

The Chinese might stay out of it, if we guarantee to not cross into their territory.. They like having capitalist states close by, as long as they pose no threat to them.

Should have let MacArthur nuke them in 51..

mark81150 on April 25, 2013 at 5:25 PM

So basically these South Korean managers are hostages.

Corporal Tunnel on April 25, 2013 at 5:47 PM

Just Curious. Do any products made at Kaesong end up being sold in the United States?

MichaelGabriel on April 25, 2013 at 5:56 PM

Good for the ROK!

Sherman1864 on April 25, 2013 at 6:04 PM

Considering that the NorKs get a VERY large portion of their food from SorK, they would do best to start talking.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Korean_famine

PJ Emeritus on April 25, 2013 at 6:05 PM

Should have let MacArthur nuke them in 51..

mark81150 on April 25, 2013 at 5:25 PM

Wasn’t he the guy who also wanted to keep going after the USSR?

MelonCollie on April 25, 2013 at 8:31 PM

Pull those managers out before Kim decides to use them as hostages.

rbj on April 25, 2013 at 5:04 PM

With all due respect: It appears they already are.

mad scientist on April 25, 2013 at 8:51 PM