Korean Peninsula Looks More Divided than Ever

21 03 2016

Kaesong Industrial Park closing(AFP, Daily Mail, 12 February 2016) North and South Korea’s perennially volatile relations seem headed for a new and potentially dangerous low, with all official lines of communication cut off and a host of tension-raising issues on the near horizon.

The two rivals, who have remained technically at war over the past six decades, have faced and weathered numerous crises in the past, but the current situation feels particularly grim in the wake of the North’s recent nuclear test and long-range rocket launch.

Any hope of compromise or dialogue seems to have been indefinitely shelved, with a leader in Pyongyang confirming an unwavering commitment to nuclear weapons development, and a counterpart in Seoul determined to react firmly — and proactively — to any North Korean provocation.

And the standoff is taking on wider Cold War-like dimensions, with the divisions between the main parties to the North Korean nuclear issue — China and Russia on one side, the US, South Korea and Japan on the other — increasingly stark and antagonistic.

The new mood on the divided peninsula played out this week in the effective termination of the sole remaining North-South cooperation project — the Kaesong joint industrial zone lying 10 kilometres (six miles) over the border in North Korea.

– A talisman for ties –

Despite its obvious vulnerabilities, Kaesong had taken on a talismanic image by riding out pretty much every inter-Korean crisis thrown up since it opened for business in 2004.

“In a way, it’s a miracle it lasted that long,” said Leonid Petrov, an expert on North Korea at the Australian National University.

But on Wednesday, Seoul announced it was suspending all operations of the 124 South Korean companies in Kaesong, and yesterday Pyongyang responded by expelling all the firms’ managers and freezing their factories’ assets.

The North placed the complex under military control, while the South cut off all power and water supplies.

“I don’t see any way back for Kaesong now,” Petrov said. “It’s gone too far and there’s no real will in the North or South to work it out.”

Kaesong was born out of the “sunshine” reconciliation policy of the late 1990s.

One of the roles initially envisaged by Seoul was of Kaesong as a beachhead for market reforms in North Korea that would spread from the complex and expose tens of thousands to the outside world’s way of doing business.

Although that vision never materialised, some analysts still mourned its demise for closing a small but crucial open door on the world’s most heavily-militarised border.

– ‘Great leap backwards’ –

“With no Kaesong, South and North Koreans will no longer be in contact anywhere on a regular basis. That is a great leap backwards,” Aidan Foster-Carter, a Korea expert based in Britain, wrote for the NK News website.

Chang Yong-Seok, a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University, said one of Kaesong’s most important contributions had been to help keep inter-Korean rivalries in check.

“The Koreas both had a stake in Kaesong so they were able to restrain each other in some ways, but now that has all gone out the window,” Chang said.

The space for communication between Seoul and Pyongyang shrank further on Thursday, when the North announced it was cutting the last two remaining communication hotlines with the South.

The hotlines themselves have never been used for conversational diplomacy, but they were key to setting up meetings where such discussions could take place.

The severing of all contacts comes ahead of a period when crisis-control talks could be most needed.

– Tensions ahead –

North Korea will likely react strongly to whatever sanctions the UN Security Council eventually agrees to impose over its nuclear test and rocket launch.

Then in March, South Korean and the United States will kick off a series of annual military drills that the North views as rehearsals for invasion and which always see a spike in tensions.

Pyongyang’s claims of provocation over the exercises should be especially shrill this time, as Seoul and Washington also begin talks on deploying an advanced US missile shield in South Korea.

“South Korea and the US have said the drills will be on an even larger scale than usual which is sure to meet a big backlash from North Korea,” said Chang.

“So, with all this, I think we’re going to see tensions running at a level incomparable to previous years,” he added.

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N. Korea Threatens to Scrap Suspended Mountain Tour Program

11 03 2010

SEOUL (Yonhap) — North Korea on March 11 claimed that the Seoul government is effectively blocking South Koreans from visiting its tourist attractions and warned it could revoke all deals covering inter-Korean tours.

The North’s Asia-Pacific Peace Committee statement carried by the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) follows a fresh round of talks held in February that failed to reach a compromise on restarting tourism to the scenic Mt. Kumgang on the east coast and Kaesong, the ancient capital of the Koryo Dynasty (A.D. 918-1392).

At the meeting, Seoul demanded an official apology for the shooting death of a female South Korean tourist in July 2008 and a pledge that such an incident will not occur in the future. The South has said a formal investigation must be carried out to determine why the shooting occurred. All tours to the famed mountain were suspended right after the shooting, while visits to Kaesong were stopped in December of the same year.

“If the South Korean government continues to block the travel routes while making false accusations, we will be left with no choice but to take extreme measures,” an unidentified spokesman for the committee said. The spokesman said such measures will include the nullification of contracts with South Korea’s Hyundai Asan, which has organized the tours, and freezing real estate and other assets. He did not go into further detail.

The official also claimed that there is growing demand from within the country and abroad to open Mt. Kumgang and Kaesong to tourists. “Kaesong will be open to tourists starting this month, while tours to Mt. Kumgang will be permitted from April,” the spokesman said, adding that South Korean tourists who visit the two areas will be afforded complete safety and offered every convenience.

In addition, he stressed that whether or not South Korean tours to the two locations will restart or not will depend entirely on South Korean authorities, who will have to bear full responsibility if the cross-border exchange does not take place. The Asia-Pacific Peace Committee official emphasized that Pyongyang has said on numerous occasions in talks with Hyundai Asan executives that every effort will be taken to ensure the safety of South Korean tourists in the future. He pointed out that the North already explained in detail that the death of the female tourist was caused by her crossing into a “no entry” zone in violation of set rules.

Despite the latest threat, South Korea made clear that the resumption of tours to Kaesong and Mt. Kumgang depends entirely on Pyongyang providing firm assurances that the safety of tourists will be protected. “There is no change in the government’s stance that concrete measures must be taken to ensure the safety of tourists,” said Unification Ministry spokesperson Chun Hae-sung. He said that all outstanding issues related to the tours must be handled through dialogue.





Latest threats may mean North Korea wants to talk

28 11 2008

By Choe Sang-Hun, International Herald Tribune (November 20, 2008)

dmzSEOUL, South Korea: For 10 years, South Korea has pursued a “sunshine policy” as its master plan for transforming North Korea. Under that banner, South Korea funneled billions of dollars to the North for new factories, hotels and food, and millions of South Korean tourists poured across the border.

But eight months after President Lee Myung-bak came to office here promising a harder approach, the once vaunted policy has unraveled. North Korea has cut off high-level dialogue with the South. It has severed Red Cross-managed telephone “hot lines” crossing the demilitarized zone. In July, a North Korean soldier shot and killed a South Korean tourist visiting its Diamond Mountain resort, leading to its closing.

The North is now threatening to shut down an industrial complex in the North Korean town of Kaesong, the best South Korea had to show for its 10 years of sunshine policy. During an inspection tour earlier this month, a high-ranking North Korean general turned to the South Korean factory owners and asked, “How soon do you think you can pack your gear and go home?”
[…]
“Obviously the North Koreans decided that they can sacrifice the sunshine policy and show to everybody in Seoul that they don’t care,” said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul. “Meanwhile, we will see spring in the North Korea-U.S. relations.”

Perhaps the greatest current concern about North Korea’s recent moves, Korea experts say, is what they may signal about the internal dynamics of the regime. “The more intriguing issue is whether all these developments signal a growing role of the military,” said Daniel Sneider, associate director for research at Stanford University’s Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center. “And the tour of Kaesong by the military was troubling in that regard.”

The military is said to detest Kaesong and its capitalistic influence, as well as any deal that would deprive it of nuclear weapons. “It is the conservative mood that prevails in Pyongyang now,” said Leonid Petrov, a North Korea expert at Australian National University and a frequent visitor to the North Korean capital.

With all the speculation over the North’s motives, Lankov, of Kookmin University, said, one thing seemed clear. “The decision to close Kaesong is a very big decision that no one in North Korea can make without explicit approval from Kim Jong-il,” he said. “It is an indirect confirmation that he is in control.”

See the full text here…