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South Korean Businesses Again Look to North's Joint Industrial Center

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A group of South Korean businesses are interested in visiting an industrial center they once operated jointly with North Korea. The group wants to see the condition of the center in North Korea in preparation for a possible reopening. As diplomatic activity with North Korea is increasing, hope for restarting operations has grown.

Yoo Chan-geun is vice-chairman of the Corporate Association of the Kaeson Industrial Complex.

He said the business owners need to learn if they will be able to make repairs or they will need to buy new factory equipment. The information will help them plan.

The Kaesong complex is 54 kilometers northwest of Seoul near the border between the two Koreas. More than 54,000 North Koreans worked there when it was operational. The center was closed in 2016 after a North Korean nuclear test.

North Korean workers sew items at a factory of a South Korean-owned company at the jointly-run Kaesong Industrial Complex, in Kaesong, North Korea, 2013. Many products that were made at the complex are banned under UN sanctions.
North Korean workers sew items at a factory of a South Korean-owned company at the jointly-run Kaesong Industrial Complex, in Kaesong, North Korea, 2013. Many products that were made at the complex are banned under UN sanctions.

At the time, the administration of former South Korean President Park Geun-hye had said money from the center was going to North Korea’s banned weapons programs. The administration estimated that 70 percent the $100 million in yearly pay and sales went to the North’s nuclear and missile programs. Workers’ pay went directly to the government in Pyongyang rather than to the workers themselves.

The current administration of President Moon Jae-in has continued with the closure order.

Additionally, the United Nations banned joint financial projects with North Korea. Other U.N. sanctions banned the export of many goods that had been produced by some Kaesong companies, including clothing.

Owners of Kaesong businesses have not been able to return to the complex since its closure. They have been told reopening the center depends on the lifting of U.N. sanctions.

Yoo said, “Our government has consistently stated that it is impossible to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex while under the sanctions against North Korea, and we have not heard anything different from it.”

The South Korean government has said economic involvement with North Korea would be limited to research and development while sanctions remain in place.

Railways a possible starting point

Recently, the two Koreas held talks on improving the North’s railroads. The goal would be to link North Korean railroads with the Chinese and Russian railroad systems to support trade throughout Asia and Europe.

Moon reportedly presented North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un with a $35 billion railroad plan in April when they met in Panmunjom.

American officials say that sanctions will remain in place until North Korea makes enough progress toward denuclearization. Kim Jong Un promised at the meeting with Moon to end his country’s nuclear program. Kim repeated the promise when he met with American President Donald Trump in Singapore on June 12.

American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to travel to Pyongyang soon. There he is to work out the details of North Korea’s agreement to end its nuclear weapons program. In exchange, the U.S. is expected to offer security guarantees and economic help while easing sanctions.

I’m Mario Ritter.

Brian Padden reported this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

Words in This Story

sanction n. measures taken by countries to force other nations to obey international law, usually by limiting trade or finance

consistently –adv. behaving in the same way

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