Marking the fourth anniversary of the shutting of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, former South Korean officials and business people called the Moon administration out for “being too conscious of the U.S.” regarding its resumption.
At a press conference held on Tuesday in Seoul, former unification ministers during the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations, lawmakers, academics, activists, and the business people whose companies resided in the Kaesong Industrial Complex during its operation, gathered to discuss the status quo and the future of the complex, once jointly run by North and South Korea.
“While denuclearization makes no progress, the U.S. constantly reiterates that the ROK and U.S. should keep in lockstep [regarding inter-Korean cooperation],” said Lee Jong-seok, unification minister in 2006 and who visited Pyongyang in 2000, accompanying former president Kim Dae-jung for the first inter-Korean summit. “But we should not follow along.”
Three former unification ministers present at the conference — Jeong Se-hyun, Chung Dong-young, and Lee Jong-seok — made sharp criticisms against the Moon administration, condemning decisions by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and Ministry of National Defense (MND) on issues such as working group meetings and U.S.-ROK joint military drills.
Jeong Se-hyun, former Unification Minister in office for two terms from 2002 to 2004 — when the construction of the Kaesong Industrial Complex started — said that it is likely that North Korea will now be unable to respond to South Korea’s call for resuming Kaesong or the Mount Kumgang resort.
“Listening to President Moon’s New Year’s Address… I thought we will finally move on from the past when the working group held us back. I thought what’s only needed now is the MOFA, Ministry of Unification (MOU), and MND support,” he said.
“Even though the North proclaimed a new way regarding the U.S., they likely had secret hopes [concerning inter-Korean cooperation],” Jeong said.
“However, seeing the news that springtime ROK-U.S. joint drill will be held this year, I knew it was all spoiled now… Kaesong Complex or Mount Kumgang or railway, if the drills start in April, North Korea wouldn’t be able to respond, for honor’s sake.”
Chung Dong-young, head of a minor opposition party and unification minister from 2004 to 2006, however, said that the situation is not more difficult than it was back in 2004, around the time North Korea dropped out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and was dubbed “the axis of evil.”
“I tell this administration: we have kept pace [with the U.S.] enough until now,” Chung said.
“Now we have to clarify that the Kaesong Industrial Complex is not something that should be resumed as a reward for denuclearization measures. That is how we can claim our independent space.”
“In 2020, the Kaesong Industrial Complex should absolutely reopen,” Chung emphasized.
Lee Jong-seok also criticized the MND’s decision to hold “scaled-down” joint drills, arguing that from the North Korean point of view joint drills are joint drills, regardless of the scale.
“I have negotiated with the North Koreans before and they are one of the trickiest counterparts to negotiate with. Tiptoeing around the U.S. and leaving space that North Korea can find fault — you can’t go anywhere from there.”
Song Young-gil, a ruling Democratic party lawmaker, raised the issue of difficulties endured by those businesspeople who invested in the project.
“The small and medium-sized company businesspeople are suffering [due to the shut-down] to the point some of them think about suicide,” Song said.
He claimed that it was the U.S. that influenced the MOU’s rejection of the business people’s request to visit the North to check their machines at the complex.
“A so-called complete, verifiable, irreversible development for inter-Korean cooperation should have been set in stone when chairman Kim Jong Un and President Moon held hands on Mount Paektu,” Song said.
Business people who have invested in the Kaesong Industrial Complex also attended the event to show support, one of whom claimed that the Moon administration has been a disappointment regarding its attitude toward the issue.
Jeong Gi-sub, Chairman of the Corporate Association of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, said that the Moon administration has been “timid and lukewarm” towards the issue for the past two years and nine months, saying the businesspeople were “disappointed and discontented.”
“I will never be able to forget this: I knew that our country was a small one, but I was infuriated to get the signal from the U.S…. that we cannot do anything without U.S. approval,” Jeong said.
“I strongly urge the government to announce the resumption of the industrial complex.”
Yesterday, Jeong handed a letter addressed to a North Korean official — concerning preparation for the resumption of the complex as soon as the coronavirus threat is over — to an MOU official, according to the ministry.
“We have received the letter. We are reviewing measures such as conveying it through the inter-Korean communications network, although nothing has been decided,” an MOU official told NK News Tuesday.
Edited by James Fretwell