About the Author
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
The South Korean government on Friday said it would permit a group of businesspeople to visit the now-shuttered Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) in North Korea, the first visit of its kind since the complex’s closure in February 2016.
The decision came at a meeting of the standing committee of South Korea’s National Security Council (NSC) presided over by director of South Korea’s presidential National Security Office (NSO) Chung Eui-yong — a meeting which also saw Seoul greenlight $8 million in food aid to the DPRK.
April 30 saw a group of former KIC businesspeople make their ninth official request that the South Korean government allow them to visit their factories at the complex.
The government will allow their visit to the North in the context of “protecting the property rights of our nationals,” the ROK MOU said in a statement.
“The government will make the necessary efforts to ensure that the visit by businesspersons of the Kaesong Industrial Complex for the inspection of assets can proceed smoothly,” it continued, adding Seoul will support the visit to ensure it takes place “at an early date.”
Although a total of 193 South Korean businesspeople and nine politicians had last month asked the government to allow them to visit the KIC, an MOU spokesperson said it would not permit the visit by lawmakers.
When asked why Seoul had given the go-ahead to the business trip to the complex, spokesperson Lee Sang-min said Seoul has been handling the issue “comprehensively, considering the various conditions required to permit their visit to North Korea.”
“There have been repeated, eight requests from companies, and they made their ninth request,” Lee told a special news briefing. “But we have made the decision to permit their visit to North Korea, especially taking into account the situation that three years have passed since the shutdown.”
The approval notably comes around one week after a meeting of the ROK-U.S. working group on North Korea in Seoul.
Asked if the U.S. had approved of the plans, Lee said Washington “fully understands” South Korea’s position, adding that Seoul has shared necessary details with its American counterparts.
The two Koreas have been in consultation over the visit and the examination of facilities, Lee said, explaining that both sides will continue contact and discussions accordingly.
The Corporate Association of Kaesong Industrial Complex — which represents former KIC businesspeople — on Friday said it “greatly welcomed” the government’s decision, saying the group planned a “practical inspection which allows them to check factories and machinery facilities that have been in a state of neglect for more than three years.”
Through the visit, businesspeople plan to come up with measures to renovate their abandoned factories and equipment, the statement added.
“To this end, we request close consultation with the government on the visit schedule and procedure.”
Friday’s decision, notably, follows commentaries by North Korea’s externally-focused media on Monday and over the weekend slamming the South Korean government for its continued reluctance to reopen the KIC, citing the indecision as proof of Seoul’s disinterest in implementing inter-Korean declarations.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: file photo