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Hopes rise for Gaeseong complex normalisation
Publication Date : 09-08-2013
Despite lingering differences between the two Koreas, hopes are rising for normalisation of the inter-Korean factory town after they agreed to meet next week following a two-week war of nerves.
The two Koreas are set to hold their seventh round of dialogue on August 14 in Gaeseong. Accepting Seoul’s offer of talks Wednesday, Pyongyang said it would lift the complex’s four-month suspension and ban on South Koreans’ entry and “fully protect” their safety and assets.
North Korea on Thursday sent a message expressing hopes that the talks would yield a good result.
A source of contention remains as the North apparently stands by its stance that the guarantees against another closure should be put forth by both sides.
Still, the Unification Ministry here called it a “forward-looking” proposal. It noted a phrase calling for “normal operation without being affected by any situation in any case”, instead of previous demands for Seoul’s pledge not to present “impure political words and military threats” as a precondition of its safeguards.
“If you think you have no responsibility, you wouldn’t guarantee that you will prevent it from happening again. The two things go hand in hand,” a ministry official told reporters on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
“In general North Korea’s position has shifted to a more forward-looking one. ... I can’t elaborate on what and how we will discuss at the talks next week but basically our stance is that North Korea’s unilateral suspension of the complex must not occur again in the future and this should be guaranteed.”
Hong Hyun-ik, a senior researcher at the private Sejong Institute, also said the five-point statement indicated that Pyongyang had “indirectly” admitted its responsibility.
“Now we are in the situation that the factories can go back into operation anytime because the North dissipated the reason for their suspension by itself,” he said.
The communist country also “showed its good faith in a way” by erasing “the political words and military threats” part, which referred to such things as Seoul-Washington joint military drills and South Korean media’s criticism about the North Korean leadership, Hong added.
The late-afternoon agreement for the seventh meeting is revitalising hopes for the survival of the last remaining symbol of cross-border rapprochement.
After the sixth round on July 25 ended in unexpected commotion, Pyongyang declared that the talks were on the brink of a collapse and Seoul was seen bracing for the district’s permanent shutdown.
The statement by the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea came hours after the Unification Ministry announced it would begin compensating Gaeseong-based firms starting Thursday.
It took insurance claims from 109 firms that collectively demanded 280.9 billion won (US$252.3 million). That means a virtual pullout of the majority of the 123 businesses running factories in the border city.
The plans appeared to be the first step of its “grave action” as a result of the North’s failure to meet its demand for assurances not to halt the complex again.
Two businesses have so far applied to take a collective 5.51 billion won worth of insurance payouts from the state-run Export-Import Bank, the ministry said.
“It’s up to the companies whether to request the payment. Some would decide after watching the results of next week’s meeting. The insurance scheme is our administrative measure to help the people,” the ministry official added.