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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
Representatives from the two Koreas held 285 meetings at a liaison office at the now-shuttered Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) since its opening in mid-September, an official from Seoul’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) told a closed-door briefing Thursday.
In a document detailing the work of the office marking 100 days since its establishment on September 14, the MOU said there have been an average of 2.9 face-to-face meetings per day, including twice-daily regular consultations and other sector-specific talks.
The talks covered joint inter-Korean infrastructure projects, plans for summits and travel between the two countries, civilian and local government exchanges, and joint cultural projects, among others, the MOU said.
Making up the 285 meetings were ten high-level talks (five of which were working discussions), ten ministerial-level talks, 26 at the vice-ministerial level, 49 on-demand working-level consultations, and 188 regular meetings.
According to the statistics provided by the MOU on Thursday, the regular meetings did not occur every day since the liaison office’s opening.
Dates were provided for the ministerial-level talks, which the MOU said were held on September 14 and 28, November 2 and 9, and December 7 with North Korean office chief Chon Chong Su.
More were held with deputy head Hwang Chung Song, known to be a senior official at the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC), on September 21, October 12 and 19, November 30, and as recently as December 14.
The MOU said that through the course of the office’s first 96 days, “individual participants and their rank were not limited, and talks and consultations were conducted at various levels.”
Among joint infrastructure plans, the office served to support a mid-November meeting on joining international air routes across the DMZ, “Rail and Road Connection and Modernization Groundbreaking Ceremony working-level talks” on December 13, and joint railway inspections conducted from November.
Other talks were held through subcommittees on forestry cooperation, sports exchanges, and healthcare.
Additional planning work was conducted, the MOU document said, including the exchange of participant rolls and schedule plans for summits and other joint events held in either country, such as one in Pyongyang celebrating the 11th anniversary of the October 4 Declaration.
As for topics seeking to address cultural differences or improve cultural understanding between the two diverging Koreas, the office discussed the possibility of “resuming talks on publishing a (jointly-compiled) ‘big book’ dictionary for the Korean language,” and jointly excavating the cultural heritage site Manwoldae in Kaesong.
The two also discussed the possibility of the North contributing artifacts to the “Goryeo: The Glory of Korea” exhibition which opened at the National Museum of Korea earlier this month.
The office, too, served as a setting for discussions on “repatriating persons and remains, as well as the handover of those found adrift at sea,” it continued.
The MOU said there are around 30 individuals working at the chief and vice-chief level for the South Korean side in Kaesong and Seoul, while around 20 are working on rotation in Kaesong and Pyongyang for the North Korean side.
For South Korea, these include individuals from the Ministry of Unification (MOU), Ministry of the Interior and Safety (MOIS), Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST), and the Korea Forest Service (KFS), who are working on syncing agencies between the two Koreas.
South Koreans working for various major corporations are also residing in the KIC to maintain the liaison office and related work, including around 20 people from KT Telecom, Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), K-Water (running the drainage system), and Korea Environment Corporation (KECO) (running the wastewater treatment plant and trash management).
The Seoul-based Catholic University of Korea’s (CUK) Catholic Medical Center is also running a medical treatment office in the main liaison office building, which is staffed by two nurses residing on site at all times, and is furnished with one ambulance and emergency supplies.
North Koreans working in the office and related areas are invited to use the medical facilities, the MOU said.
Looking forward, the MOU hopes to further “develop and expand the abilities of the liaison office” through “energizing research and surveys … and establishing a cooperation system with the civilian sector.”
The office should also host “forums and workshops for civilian organizations and local governments,” and “seek help from experts” to further its development.
The MOU singled out potential areas of study as “U.S.-China, U.S.-Vietnam, U.S.-Libya, East-West Germany,” according to Thursday’s document.
South Korea hopes to see greater access and freedom of movement granted to workers of the office as well, and to strengthen its role in “pushing ahead with improving inter-Korean relations.”
Meanwhile, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported that liaison office head Kim Chang Su spoke to journalists Thursday on improving telecommunication facilities, including internet connectivity, for the office.
Kim reportedly said he thought the office should become a “smart office” with fast, fiber-optic internet capabilities, and that internet could be available there “shortly.”
Thursday’s document was released to mark this coming Sunday’s 100-day anniversary of the liaison office’s opening.
While the MOU previously released details of South Korean government spending on opening the office, this week’s report did not include numbers on the cost of operating the facilities in the first 100 days.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Joint press pool