|Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, center, speaks during a lecture hosted by ruling Democratic Party of Korea's panel on denuclearization at the National Assembly, Friday. / Yonhap|
By Yi Whan-woo
Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said Friday that holding talks on reopening the Gaeseong Industrial Complex (GIC) in North Korea, should be discussed in conjunction with progress in its denuclearization talks with the United States.
Kang said if the government wants to reopen the GIC, which has been closed since February 2016, there first needs to be discussions on on how to operate it without providing cash to the North.
Her remarks came after President Moon Jae-in expressed hope for economic cooperation with Pyongyang in his New Year press conference, Thursday.
The U.S. has been asking South Korea to continue to observe U.N. Security Council sanctions and keep inter-Korean relations in lockstep with the denuclearization progress.
While Moon remains resolute in carrying out the sanctions on North Korea, he apparently has been interested in cross-border economic projects as part of a wider push for reconciliatory efforts. For instance, during the New Year press conference, he said peace with North Korea could "drive economic growth."
"Because the U.S. is pessimistic towards the flow of cash into North Korea, whether to resume the GIC should be discussed in conjunction with progress on denuclearization by Pyongyang," Kang said at the National Assembly during a lecture hosted by the ruling Democratic Party of Korea's panel on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
"We should think of measures to normalize the GIC while ensuring no foreign currency goes into North Korea."
Commenting on a planned second summit between leaders of the U.S. and North Korea, Kang said she would not rule out the possibility of a related announcement.
She said another summit is "within sight" and that preparatory talks will take place "in the near future."
Washington and Pyongyang have been negotiating where U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un should meet following their groundbreaking summit in Singapore last year.
"Major U.S. figures have hinted recently that there has been communication between Pyongyang and Washington over the possible second U.S.-North Korea summit," the minister said in a pre-released text. "It should not be ruled out that an announcement on the second U.S.-North Korea summit could be made suddenly."
In his New Year address, Kim voiced his desire to meet the American president "anytime."
On Jan. 6, Trump said the U.S. and North Korea were "negotiating a location" for the summit. Many speculate it could be held in Vietnam.
Kang said maintaining momentum for Washington-Pyongyang dialogue will be important "above all else" for stability on the Korean Peninsula. She referred to the little progress made between the U.S. and North Korea on denuclearization since the first summit.
"Being discreet over the situation on the peninsula will be needed, especially considering skepticism in the U.S. toward its dialogue with the North and also growing complaints from U.S. hardliners," minister added.
She pointed out that there need to be "close communication and consultations" between the relevant countries ahead of a series of major diplomatic events, including the Trump-Kim summit and the North Korean leader's possible trip to Seoul.
Kang assessed that Kim's summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing this week showed the close friendship between the two countries and served to deepen their strategic communication ahead of Kim's summit with Trump.
As for Seoul's role in peace efforts, Kang noted the need to strive for "dramatic progress" in inter-Korean relations and efforts to denuclearize the peninsula if Kim makes an unprecedented trip to Seoul.
During his third summit with Moon in Pyongyang in September, Kim agreed to visit Seoul to reciprocate the President's trip to the North. Seoul believes that Kim's visit, if realized, will facilitate peace efforts.