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(EDITORIAL from the Korea Times on July 30)
Restart the factory park
Two Koreas ought to meet each other half way

South Korea proposed on Monday to hold “one final round” of make-or-break talks with North Korea on restarting the Gaeseong Industrial Complex.

   We hope the North Koreans will not only come to the dialogue table but also apologize for the unilateral suspension of the operation of the joint factory park in the border city, and guarantee that such an incident will never happen again.

   Chance would be a fine thing, however. North Korea might outright turn down what is virtually an ultimatum. Even if the North accepts the offer, it will turn the talk into an event to denounce South Korea unless Seoul withdraws its two demands on Pyongyang ― apology and guarantee. Exactly the same things happened when Koreas suspended Mt. Geumgang tour five years ago.

   If one puts complicated causes and seemingly inevitable circumstances aside, the bottom line is that the two conservative governments could end up appearing to stop the two most symbolic projects of inter-Korean cooperation and reconciliation started and developed by two liberal predecessors. Moreover, unlike the tours of the scenic mountain which are always ready to be restarted, the industrial park can be crippled beyond repair.

   Everyone can see that the South has the upper hand in this tug-of-war both in terms of moral justification and economic might. All it has to pay for trying to force the North to its knees will be $1 billion in compensation for firms.

   Even for the impoverished North Korean regime, the biggest damage will not be its short-term loss of cash income but the long-term blows to its credibility as a destination of foreign investment. But Pyongyang signed its own death warrant when it pulled out 54,000 workers because of the South Korea-U.S. annual military drills and the southern media’s referring to the complex Kim Jong-un’s “cash cow.” It must know that few, if any, other countries confuse economic with political and military issues.
The earlier the North realizes its blunders, the better. It is also true, however, that Pyongyang ― which weirdly sticks to national pride ― has a track record of neither acknowledging its mistakes nor apologizing for them. Had it not been for this unrealistic adherence to pride, and the bizarre three-generational communist dynasty, North Korea could have been a totally different country now, like Vietnam, for instance.

   All this means that the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean rapprochement is about to go up in smoke, escalating tension even higher and chasing away momentum for inter-Korean contacts beyond reach probably during the remainder of President Park’s tenure, as Mt. Geumgang did to her predecessor Lee Myung-bak.

   It was the North Korean leadership, especially its military that decided the withdrawal, which means the guarantee to prevent its recurrence cannot be made at a working-level meeting, a fact which became apparent weeks ago.

   The Koreas should upgrade the meeting to a ministerial conference, and declare continuity of the project by all means as well as the separation of politics and economy, along with discussing other pending issues, such as the restart of cross-border tours and family reunions. They should first reopen the factory complex and discuss how to prevent the recurrence of similar mishaps later.
Most Koreans think President Park didn’t put forth “trustpolitik” as her watchword in North Korea policy just to follow her predecessor’s failed example. Park must prove that they are not wrong.