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With the third inter-Korean summit held from September 18 to 20, issues related to the reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex have been on the rise. The inter-Korean liaison office opened on September 14, and once the sanctions against North Korea are relaxed because of the summit, there is the possibility of the reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the symbol of cooperation between the North and the South.
So, what do young Korean people think of the Kaesong Industrial Complex? Whenever issues such as the inter-Korean team at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games or the nuclear weapons of North Korea have come up, the media has pointed out that more and more Koreans in their 20s are leaning to the right regarding unification and security. But is this true? On August 27, this reporter met with a group of four Koreans in their 20s—two who were in favor of and two who were against the reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex.
What are your thoughts on the Kaesong Industrial Complex?
Seo Hyeong-jin (for): There are largely two positive effects of the Kaesong Industrial Complex. The first is an economic effect that comes from the Kaesong Industrial Complex’s high productivity, great position, high quality manpower, and wage efficiency. The second is the fact that the South and the North can reduce their mutual sense of difference through the Kaesong Industrial Complex. Consistent contact through the Kaesong Industrial Complex and other exchanges between the two Koreas can lead to reconciliation and peace.
Park A-ram (for): My goal was to work for the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee (KIDMAC), but the complex itself was closed. To some people the Kaesong Industrial Complex is something that’s related to the greater good of unification, but to other people like me, the closure of the complex is an issue of personal sacrifice. And it’s the same for the companies in the complex.
Hong Sun-ki (against): I trust the Moon Jae-in administration, but I don’t trust North Korea. North Korea has been constantly changing its position on denuclearization without sincere and effective measures. And the joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States have been suspended because North Korea made ridiculous complaints. I’m against reopening the Kaesong Industrial complex without a change in North Korea.
Lee Seon-jeong (against): North Korea has to take certain actions in order for us to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex. In the past, North Korea didn’t implement what was laid out in the joint statement signed on September 19, 2005—the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the commitment to abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs. And the United States’ NBC News (July 30, 2018) reported that several American intelligence agencies believe that North Korea is producing more enriched uranium, the source for nuclear weapons, at multiple sites. On the same day, the Washington Post also reported that U.S. agencies found that North Korea is constructing two liquid-fueled ICBMs at a research facility in Sanumdong, on the outskirts of Pyongyang. Under these circumstances, I am very concerned about helping the economic development of North Korea and generously giving North Korea everything, like connecting the railroads and roads.
Denuclearization followed by opening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex VS opening followed by denuclearization
Seo Hyeong-jin (for): Denuclearization is necessary, but North Korea is showing its good intentions, shutting down the Punggye-ri nuclear test site and such. I believe that it’s effective to approach inter-Korean relations in phases in line with North Korea’s efforts.
Lee (against): Hasn’t it already be proven that we cannot resolve North Korea’s nuclear weapon problem that way? That’s what led to the “Big Deal” theory. In the past, North Korea has not implemented the denuclearization agreements between the North and the South, and therefore in order to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula during Trump’s first term, experts have analyzed that we need a groundbreaking “big deal” that goes beyond exchanging a report of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and the declaration of the end of the war. As soon as they shut down the nuclear test site, North Korea is demanding that we start again with the Keumgang Mountain and reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex. If they make demands every time they shut down nuclear test sites and missile engine test sites, then it will be no different from the failed negotiations of the past.
Seo (for): Why is it bad to go through numerous steps? The issue of peaceful unification has to be done in the long term. From North Korea’s perspective, it would be difficult to agree to eliminating all nuclear weapons and then sitting down for negotiation.
Hong (against): The profits of the Kaesong Industrial Complex become taxes for maintaining North Korea and the Kim Jong-un regime?
Park (for): Do you then believe that if we trade with China, we help China to further the progress of its Northeast Project? Or if we cooperate economically with Japan, we’re helping Dokdo become Japan’s territory? In this way, don’t you think that we can’t simply say that reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex will unconditionally result in helping the North Korean regime?
Hong (against): If the Kaesong Industrial Complex does not play that big of a role in North Korea’s economy, then would it actually help North Korea to accept market economy? North Korea is just a small market and doesn’t even have proper private corporations. So isn’t it impossible for the Kaesong Industrial Complex to have an effect on spreading capitalism in North Korea?
Park (for): The Kaesong Industrial Complex is structured in a way that would naturally result in raising people’s awareness of capitalism. It’s natural for us to work and make money and receive bonuses depending on our performances. But they don’t have that in North Korea. For instance, Choco Pie is nothing more than a snack, but to North Koreans working in the Kaesong Industrial Complex, Choco Pie is like a bonus they receive instead of money to encourage them to do better. Some people take those Choco Pies and sell them in the market outside the complex. So, the Choco Pies that North Koreans receive in the Kaesong Industrial Complex are a symbol of market economy.
Lee (against): But how big would the Choco Pie effect be? And the workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex have to undergo ideological training again. Making wireless internet public may help, but I don’t believe that the Kaesong Industrial Complex has a lot of influence in turning North Korea into a market economy.
Park (for): That’s right. If we want to make internet available, then we have to first resolve three issues: transportation, communication, and customs. When the Kaesong Industrial Complex was up and running, the South and the North at least talked about them. If we are to bring internet to North Korea, we need to maintain contact zones, such as the Kaesong Industrial Complex.
Should we consider North Korea a normal country?
Lee (against): You’re talking about the separation of politics and economy using the Kaesong Industrial Complex as an example, but that’s impossible in inter-Korean relations. North Korea isn’t a free market economy. There is a law concerning the Kaesong Industrial Complex, but I believe North Korea is a kind of country that will overturn the law if they want to.
Seo (for): I agree to the special circumstances that North Korea is in. But if we proceed with the premise that North Korea cannot be trusted, inter-Korean relations can never improve. According to South Korea’s constitution, North Korea is unrecovered territory. Which means North Koreans are also the people of our country. For mutual development and coexistence of our people, we need the Kaesong Industrial Complex, which would help the development of both the North and the South.
Hong (against): We shouldn’t reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex because its closure in accordance with the constitution. Economy is a matter of life and wealth but security is a matter of life and death. The amount of money we sent to North Korea was increased under the Lee Myung-bak administration more than during the Kim Dae-jung and the Roh Moo-hyun administrations. We didn’t close down the Kaesong Industrial Complex even after implementing the May 24 measures after the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan. Even though the money we sent to North Korea had nearly doubled, North Korea went ahead with nuclear tests. North Korea brought the shutdown upon itself, and I believe we need to take a stand against North Korea’s violence to protect our constitutional values.
Seo (for): It’s true that North Korea couldn’t keep the documented agreement. But it’s also true that our government forced North Korea into a corner through joint military exercises with the United States as well as through sanctions and pressure. But if we stay buried under the past errors, we can never have developmental discussions on inter-Korean relations. Situations have been changing both in Korea and overseas, and the leaders of both Koreas have changed. I think it’d be best if we focus on peace for the future of the Korean Peninsula.
What are your thoughts on the Moon Jae-in administration’s North Korea policy?
Hong (against): The Moon Jae-in administration is showing unreserved faith in North Korea. The key to negotiation is give and take, but I wonder if the Moon administration is focused on giving. Like the tentative suspension and postponement of the three joint military exercises with the United States, which are key to South Korea’s security.
Lee (against): And North Korea has received a lot. I think the shutdown of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site was a show, shutting down a test site that was already unable to conduct tests. But we even took down the propaganda speakers. What did North Korea do for us?
Seo (for): I think North Korea showed an international will to give up on nuclear weapons. Our standards may differ, but I don’t think wanting North Korea to change unconditionally is the answer to inter-Korean relations. North Korea is certainly changing, and I think we need to take a conciliatory approach. So now, while the situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula is changing, this may be our only opportunity to realize peace on the Korean Peninsula through the reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex.
Hong (against): I think for North Korea, this is the only opportunity. I believe that we need to create opportunities, not be led by the nose by North Korea. North Korea is entirely to blame for the worsened inter-Korean relations, and therefore we need to bring the key issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons to the negotiation table.
Seo (for): I think that we need to focus on the meaning and the symbolism of peace and reconciliation that the Kaesong Industrial Complex has. Through inter-Korean exchange and cooperation, we need to broaden our understanding of each other and share the basic awareness of unification at the very least. I believe that through such efforts, we can eliminate and solve the issue of violence that comes from the division of the peninsula, such as the Red Complex in our society. Of course, it’s going to be difficult and tiring, but I believe that it’s important to find middle ground for each issue.
Park (for): If unification is a result, I believe that the Kaesong Industrial Complex is the process to achieve that result. The starting point of this problem was the division of the peninsula, which occurred because we didn’t have autonomy as others intervened in our affairs. I believe that the two Koreas now need to take charge. And I think it’s very positive that President Moon Jae-in is taking the lead in inter-Korean relations. The reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex will be a good thing that will allow us to autonomously take the lead in inter-Korean relations.
Lee (against): No matter how I look at it, I cannot agree to a roadmap that aims to use economic cooperation to diffuse the inter-Korea tensions and denuclearize the North. I think that’s the limitation of the North Korean regime. Approaching North Korea’s nuclear program issue in stages as we have in the past cannot resolve the issue. I believe that North Korea is even more disappointed than we are about the Kaesong Industrial Complex. But I think it’s a good idea to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex ultimately after dissolving their nuclear program and removing the security threat.