North and South Korea will hold fresh talksWednesday on reopening their joint industrial zone with low hopes of anearly agreement following months of friction.
|South Korean soldiers stand at a military checkpoint leading to North Korea’s Kaesong joint industrial complex, in the border city of Paju early on July 10, 2013.|
A fourth round of talks over the complex, a rare symbol ofcooperation between the two rivals, will be held just across the borderin the North and follow three failed attempts this month which all endedin deadlock.
“We’ll make efforts to have sincere and substantive consultations inorder to resolve pending issues”, South Korea’s chief delegate KimKi-Woong told journalists before leaving Seoul for the North.
At a meeting earlier this month, the two sides agreed in principle toreopen the estate, where 53,000 North Koreans worked in 123 South-ownedfactories producing textiles or light industrial goods.
But little progress has been made since then amid squabbles overwhich side will take responsibility for the suspension, and Pyongyang’srefusal to accept Seoul’s demand for firm safeguards against anotherunilateral shutdown.
Seoul also wants to allow foreign firms to operate in Kaesong in anapparent bid to make it more difficult for Pyongyang to shut the estateif relations worsen.
The North has called for an unconditional and quick restart, blamingSeoul’s “hostile policy” for the suspension and the current deadlock innegotiations.
“They kept talking past each other. These can hardly be callednegotiations but deaf arguments,” Chang Yong-Seok, senior researcher atthe Institute for Peace and Unification at Seoul National University,told AFP.
Professor Yang Moo-Jin of the University of North Korean Studies saidthe fourth and fifth rounds of talks would serve as a “watershed” inattempts to rescue Kaesong, the last remaining symbol of reconciliation.
“Both sides feel pressure to produce some results before the US-SouthKorea joint military exercise, Ulji Freedom Guide, next month”, Yangsaid.
The North needs to satisfy a US demand that it improve ties with Seoul before any talks with Washington.
Seoul meanwhile will be seeking to cool tensions ahead of themilitary exercise, which if left unchecked could smother new PresidentPark Geun-Hye’s policy of measured trust building in its infancy, Yangsaid.
But, he added: “Both leaders of the two sides are taking a stronghands-on approach, meddling in the talks too intrusively, leaving theirdelegates little room to wiggle at negotiations.”
Kaesong was the most high-profile casualty of the months of elevatedtensions that followed the North’s third nuclear test in February, thesubsequent tightening of UN sanctions and US-South Korean militaryexercises.
Pyongyang last Wednesday proposed separate meetings to discuss theresumption of suspended cross-border tours to its scenic Mount Kumgangresort, and the reunion of families separated since the Korean War.
But it retracted its proposal a day later after Seoul only acceptedthe offer of talks on family reunions while refusing to discuss theMount Kumgang tours — another former valued source of hard currency forthe impoverished communist state.
The talks have been held at the estate in Kaesong, some 10 kilometres (six miles) inside the North.
Many of the South Korean firms with factories in Kaesong, facingmillions of dollars in damages due to the shutdown, have threatened toleave the complex permanently if the suspension continues.