Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Is North Korea's Kaesong Industrial Park Closing?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Is North Korea's Kaesong Industrial Park Closing?

Article excerpt

On Monday, North Korea announced it would pull its workers from the Kaesong Industrial Complex, sounding a possible death knell for the main symbol of hope for inter-Korean cooperation.

North Korea "will temporarily suspend operations in the zone and examine whether it will allow its (continued) existence or close it," said Workers' Party of Korea Central Committee secretary Kim Yang-gon, according to North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KNCA). The KNCA blamed the suspension on aggressive behavior by South Korea, which it said was trying to "turn the zone [Kaesong] into a hotbed of war."

Observers are now trying to gauge the motivations behind North Korea's announcement amid heightened tensions.

"It's one of two things," says Daniel Pinkston, North East Asia deputy project director for the International Crisis Group in Seoul. "It's either part of a coercive bargaining game meant to pressure external actors, or it's part of internal coalition building," though he stressed the first was more likely.

On April 3, North Korea barred South Koreans from entering the complex and hasn't allowed new workers from South Korea into the industrial park since. The complex has been closed before for short periods, most recently in 2009, but this is the longest interruption to regular in and out traffic. The exceptional length of the shutdown and North Korea's pledge to pull out could signal that inter-Korean relations have entered a new low.

North Korea has a clear incentive to keep the joint economic zone open. The industrial park produced $470 million worth of goods last year, and North Korea earned about $80 million from the complex in 2012, according to South Korea's Ministry of Unification.

In addition to its economic importance, Kaesong has been a symbol of inter-Korean cooperation since it opened in 2004. It was designed as a mutually beneficial arrangement that would provide an example of how North and South Korea stand to gain from working together. Should it be closed down permanently, the large cluster of factories sitting unused, or occupied by new tenants, would vividly illustrate just how much inter-Korean relations have deteriorated. …

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