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South Korea Criticizes North Proposal for Talks on Joint Complex

A gate on a road leading to North Korea stands empty near the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) office near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Paju on April 29, 2013. Source: Yonhap News via Bloomberg
A gate on a road leading to North Korea stands empty near the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) office near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Paju on April 29, 2013. Source: Yonhap News via Bloomberg

May 29 (Bloomberg) -- South Korea criticized North Korea for proposing a visit by private companies to a shuttered jointly run industrial park while refusing an overture for government-level talks.

“North Korea should stop raising doubts through its two-faced actions and return to government-level dialogue,” Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung Suk told reporters today in Seoul. “The South Korean government already proposed working-level talks on May 14.”

North Korea on April 8 suspended operations indefinitely at the Gaeseong complex at a time when Kim Jong Un’s regime was threatening preemptive nuclear strikes in response to U.S.-South Korea joint military drills. The last South Korean workers left on May 3 after a dispute over unpaid wages and bills in the zone, which had been a source of hard currency for the impoverished North.

“The kind of confrontation that we’re seeing now is classic in that North Korea has been throwing around threats that they can’t afford to follow through with,” said Kim Seok Hyang, a professor of North Korean studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. “The rules of game are changing in that public opinion in the South has turned more sour against the North.”

Kim’s regime said yesterday it would agree to discuss the future of Gaeseong with executives of South Korean companies based at the facility, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) north of the demilitarized zone.

Mutual Profits

The complex employed more than 53,000 North Koreans working for 123 South Korean companies. Production has generated $100 million in annual profits for North Korea and four times that for the South, according to Yang Moo Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

North Korea’s proposal came days after it reaffirmed its commitment to atomic weapons in a statement that attacked South Korean President Park Geun Hye. The nuclear reaffirmation defied urging by Chinese President Xi Jinping that Kim’s government return to nuclear disarmament talks. China is North Korea’s biggest benefactor and trading partner.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula flared after North Korea defied United Nations sanctions with a rocket launch in December then conducted a nuclear test in February. The Obama administration has said that North Korea must pledge to abandon its atomic ambitions as a condition to resuming six-nation talks that were abandoned in 2008.

To contact the reporters on this story: Cynthia Kim in Seoul at ckim170@bloomberg.net; Shinhye Kang in Seoul at skang24@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stuart Biggs at sbiggs3@bloomberg.net

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