North Korea reportedly notified the South Korean government of its decision to unfreeze the South’s assets at the Kaesong Industrial Complex. It has been two years and eight months since the North unilaterally deported South Korean workers in the complex there after the South shut down it in retaliation for the North’s fourth nuclear test in February 2016. The South Korean government is scheduled to visit the industrial park with South Korean businessmen, who ran factories there, to inspect the South’s assets.
After the South halted operation at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the North unilaterally resumed work at the Complex, claiming a right to operate and manage it. North Korea’s decision to unfreeze the South’s assets appears to be a message to the South, urging it to speed up the reopening of the complex. North Korea also said it would return the seized South Korean assets at Mount Kumgang resort. The jointly operated tourist site was shut down in 2010 when a South Korean tourist was shot to death by a North Korean soldier. But reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex cannot be done without easing of international sanctions against North Korea. This is why the South Korean government said, “There is no reopening of the complex without sanctions relief on North Korea.” The government also stressed that a visit to the complex by South Korean businessmen is simply to inspect the assets, and has nothing to do with the reopening of the complex.
The UN Security Council Resolutions on North Korea prohibits all joint ventures or cooperative entities with North Korean entities or individuals. Independent sanctions by the U.S. also prohibit providing the North with all goods and services for all types of businesses in the North, such as construction and transportation. Bringing facilities and materials into the North or paying North Korean workers has a huge chance of violating those sanctions. In particular, tougher standards will be applied to the Kaesong Industrial Complex as it has been known to the international community that the complex had been used to finance the North Korean regime.
Nevertheless, the South Korean government acceded to the North’s demand by stressing the need to ease sanctions on North Korea. Recently, the South Korean government resumed operation of water purification facilities in the Complex and supplied tap water to the town of Kaesong, causing much controversy. An official from a ruling party of South Korea argued that the South should pay North Korean workers with rice instead of dollars. “(The U.S.) ruthlessly ignored South Korea’s request to exclude Kaesong Industrial Complex and Mount Kumgang resort from the sanctions list,” said a North Korean propaganda media. Despite the South Korean government’s denial of a possible reopening of the industrial complex, the North is promoting the South’s diplomacy to resume operation at the complex.
Pyongyang is not responding to Washington’s request to start working-level talks for denuclearization, and relying on the South Korean government to seek a breakthrough. This kind of attitude will only raise a doubt from the international community. The Pyongyang Declaration, agreed by the two leaders of Koreas, states that the two Koreas will “normalize operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex and resume Mount Kumgang tourism when conditions allow.” The Kaesong Industrial Complex can only be reopened when the sanctions against the North are eased and the sanctions relief is only possible when the North takes concrete steps toward denuclearization. There is no detour North Korea can take.