South Korea today warned of unspecified “grave measures” if North Korea rejects talks on a jointly run factory park shuttered for nearly a month - setting up the possible end of the last remaining major symbol of inter-Korean cooperation.
The demand for talks, which is likely to draw an angry response from North Korea, follows a lull in what had been a period of rising hostility between the Koreas. Pyongyang has recently eased its threats of nuclear war and expressed some tentative signs of interest in dialogue, and Washington and Seoul have also pushed for an easing of animosity.
Despite North Korea’s threats, there were few major actions; perhaps the biggest was Pyongyang’s suspension of operations at the inter-Korean factory park in the North Korean border town of Kaesong.
Early this month, it barred South Koreans from crossing the border and entering the factory, which is a holdover from an era that saw the Koreas set up various cooperative projects meant to facilitate better ties. It also withdrew the 53,000 North Koreans who manned assembly lines there.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry on Thursday proposed working-level talks on Kaesong and urged the North to respond by Friday noon, warning that Seoul will take “grave measures” if Pyongyang rebuffs the call for dialogue.
In a televised news conference, spokesman Kim Hyung-suk refused to describe what those measures might be, but some analysts said Seoul would likely pull out its remaining workers from the complex if the working-level talks don’t happen.
The factory has operated with South Korean know-how and technology and with cheap labor from North Korea since 2004. It has weathered past cycles of hostility between the rivals, including two attacks blamed on North Korea in 2010 that killed 50 South Koreans.
More than 120 South Korean companies, mostly small and medium-sized apparel and electronics firms, operated at Kaesong before North Korean workers stopped showing up on April 9. Raw material came from South Korea, with finished goods later sent back south.