|South Korean businessmen and civic group members hold a press conference in Seoul, Monday, urging the government to reopen the Gaeseong Industrial Complex. / Yonhap|
By Kang Seung-woo
South Korean businessmen who ran factories at the now-shuttered joint industrial complex in North Korea's border city of Gaeseong urged the government Monday to reopen the facility immediately.
The Gaeseong Industrial Complex (GIC), established in 2004, was abruptly shut down by the Park Geun-hye administration, Feb. 10, 2016, in retaliation for the North's fourth nuclear test, Jan. 6, and long-range missile launches, Feb. 7, that year. A total of 124 South Korean companies operated facilities there employing 54,000 North Korean workers. The conservative government decided the hard currency earned through the "joint venture" was used to fund the North's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
"It has been four years since the shutdown of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex, which was the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean economic cooperation. During the period, military tensions on the Korean Peninsula have escalated, while companies operating there and their affiliates have been hit very hard financially," the Corporate Association of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex (CAGIC) said during a press conference jointly held in central Seoul with the civic group Pan-National Movement for the Resumption of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex and Mount Geumgang Tourism.
"As the government expressed its determination to expand inter-Korean cooperation and exchanges at the beginning of the year, it needs to come up with detailed measures, and the first step should be to declare the resumption of the facility's operations and allow businessmen to visit there for preparations."
The press conference took place as the Moon Jae-in administration is seeking to expand inter-Korean cooperation and exchanges this year to "facilitate" nuclear talks between Pyongyang and Washington. Along with allowing individual tourists from the South to the North, its plans include reopening the GIC.
"The government believes the reopening of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex is absolutely necessary to move toward peace on the Korean Peninsula. Now we plan to create an atmosphere positive about it in cooperation with the international community," Unification Ministry spokesman Yoh Sang-key said in a briefing earlier in the day.
Participants in the press conference also denounced the United States that they claim was being negative about inter-Korean cooperation.
Regarding the tourism and Gaeseong reopening, the U.S. government has expressed concerns that they may violate international sanctions imposed because of the North's nuclear and missile programs. When President Moon unveiled his inter-Korean plan last month, U.S. Ambassador to Korea Harry Harris said Seoul should hold prior consultations with Washington to avoid "misunderstandings" related to sanctions.
"Last year, three inter-Korean summits took place, raising expectations that reopening the industrial zone and the suspended Mount Geumgang tourism could be feasible in the near future. However, the U.S. found fault with everything regarding inter-Korean affairs, and the South dragged its feet on them, being extremely cautious about the U.S. government's response," CAGIC said.
"North Korea policy is an issue for South Korea to decide on its own. If the U.S. really wants peace and prosperity on the peninsula, it should give full support rather than interfering."
The press conference coincided with South Korea and the U.S. holding "working group" talks to coordinate policy on the North. The Kim Jong-un regime criticizes the meeting as the U.S. attempting to ruin inter-Korean projects.