The nearly month-long closure of the Kaesong joint industrial complex in North Korea appears to be permanent. After receiving no positive response from Pyongyang in the 24-hour time limit demanded, Seoul has now ordered the remaining South Korean managers to abandon the plant:
Seoul decided Friday to withdraw the roughly 175 South Koreans still at a jointly run factory complex in North Korea.
The statement Friday by the country’s minister in charge of inter-Korean relations raised a major question about the future of the last major symbol of inter-Korean cooperation.
Seoul’s announcement came hours after North Korea rejected a South Korean demand for talks on the factory park that has been closed for nearly a month. Seoul said it was worried about its workers not having access to food and medicine.
It’s not that North Korea didn’t respond at all. They did respond, but the reply was, er … typical:
Pyongyang’s powerful National Defense Commission earlier said Seoul’s demand for working-level talks was deceptive and similar future demands would “only speed up final destruction” of South Korea.
According to the BBC, the ultimatum was precipitated by Pyongyang, which refused to allow new supplies of food and medicine into the plant. The BBC also reminds readers that we’ve seen this same conflict play out before, in the Mount Kumgang seizure that ended a joint tourism effort:
In 2011 North Korea said it seized assets from Mount Kumgang, a mothballed tourism site run by the two countries.
In other words, despite the starvation conditions in the North and the Kim regime’s desperation for hard currency, the ruling clique doesn’t appear all that inclined to work on peaceful reunification projects. That can’t all be put on Kim Jong-un and the transition. The conflict over Mount Kumgang began in 2008 with the shooting of a South Korean tourist by a North Korean soldier, which caused the South to suspend operations in protest. Rather than work to get it reopened, Kim Jong-il’s regime gave the South 72 hours to pack up and leave in 2011 before seizing another rare source of legitimate hard currency. They currently operate the resort primarily for Chinese visitors, but are losing lots of opportunity for revenue there, too.
The South isn’t backing down, either. Joint military drills continue with the US — this week focusing on amphibious assaults, which sends a rather unsubtle message to Pyongyang:
CNN’s Jim Clancy reports that China had asked the US to cancel this particular exercise, but who can resist a surfing expedition — especially in an armored vehicle? The US wants to keep the pressure on the Kim regime, and apparently on Beijing as well.