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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
Seoul has approved close to KRW3.5 billion (USD$3.1 million) in funding for the operation of an inter-Korean joint liaison office at the now-shuttered Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) this year, the South Korean Ministry of Unification (MOU) announced on Thursday.
The bill was passed at the 295th Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Promotion Council, held between August 6 and 14, the ministry said in a written statement.
Seoul will provide a total of KRW 3.47 billion (USD$3.06 million) for the operating expenditures of the North-South joint liaison office in the KIC this year.
The money will come from the Inter-Korean Cooperation Fund.
“We will operate the liaison office with the aim that it can contribute to round-the-clock dialogue and cooperation and the stable management of the situation of inter-Korean relations,” the unification ministry said in the statement.
“The Ministry of Unification will strive to contribute to the development of the South-North relations by implementing the Panmunjom Declaration sector-by-sector without setbacks.”
April’s Panmunjom Declaration saw the two Koreas agree to establish a joint liaison office with resident representatives in the Kaesong region to “facilitate close consultation between the authorities as well as smooth exchanges and cooperation between the people.”
Seoul and Pyongyang then agreed to begin operating the office “immediately” at inter-Korean high-level talks held on June 1.
Renovation and repairs of the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Discussion Office within the KIC, which serve as the site of the liaison office, has been underway since July 2, with Seoul spending KRW86 million (USD$75,724) on the project.
But the plans have been the source of some inter-Korean tension, with DPRK state-run outlets in July and August denouncing Seoul for delays in bringing an electric generator with kilowatts (kW) capacity for the operation of the joint liaison office.
That delay was, in part, influenced by concerns about violating international sanctions against the North.
Seoul began to supply the electricity on a trial basis to facilities at the liaison office on Tuesday afternoon, the unification ministry said: returning ROK-made electricity to the site for the first time since the South’s unilateral withdrawal from the KIC in 2016.
The power supply was for use by South Korean staff and for the operation of the liaison office, the MOU said, insisting that the North Koreans would not be using the electricity.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday said the office will be open “in a few days,” adding it is “expected to develop into a permanent mission for both sides.”
“In a few days, an era in which the two Koreas communicate with each other around the clock will commence,” Moon said, in a speech in which he said the two Koreas would be able to achieve “true liberation” through the establishment of a single economic community.
South Korean Minister of Unification Cho Myoung-gyon on Monday said Seoul and Washington have continued “close consultation” on obtaining the KIC office an exemption from international sanctions.
When asked if the Moon administration would push ahead with the opening of the liaison office even if the U.S. didn’t support the granting of an exemption, Cho said Seoul did not expect such a scenario to arise.
Meanwhile, Thursday saw ruling party organ the Rodong Sinmun reiterate the North’s view that sanctions and pressure “can’t be compatible” with the improvement of inter-Korean relations.
“The U.S. puts pressure on the South Korean authorities, enterprises, and civic organizations not to step into the inter-Korean cooperation and exchanges while clamoring for the ‘thorough implementation of sanctions on the DPRK,’” the Rodong said.
“This is unwarranted interference in the nation’s internal issues and inter-Korean relations, and it becomes a hindrance to the reconciliation and unity of the nation as well as inter-Korean dialogue and cooperation.”
The two Koreas won’t be able to push ahead with the implementation of the Panmunjom Declaration and improve inter-Korean relations if Seoul “cooperates with the foreign power,” the Rodong said, warning of “irreversible consequences” if delays continue.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: NK News