North Korea Ends Hissy Fit Over Kaesong Industrial Complex


North Korea and South Korea agreed Wednesday to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a joint manufacturing zone that the North shuttered amid high tensions in April. Both countries, especially North Korea, have greatly benefited from the functioning of the complex. The park allows South Korean companies to employ cheap labor that is educated, skilled, and fluent in Korean, whilst providing North Korea with an important source of foreign currency. Furthermore, the two counties have also agreed to discuss the proposition of reuniting families that had been separated due to the Korean War.

Although the recent overtures are no doubt a positive turn in relations, they must not be seen as a long-term and lasting improvement in relations on which the two countries can build upon. The opening of the complex is mainly as a result of the North finally realizing that keeping the complex working is more beneficial to it than keeping it inactive.

On 8 April 2013, the North Korean government removed all 53,000 North Korean workers from the Kaesong industrial park, which effectively shut down all activities. Amidst high tensions when the North was threatening the use of nuclear weapons against South Korea and the U.S., the closure of the complex by the North was a mere diplomatic show of force. The closure effectively rendered 53,000 Koreans jobless on top of the already-deplorable economic conditions in North Korea.

Someone has finally been talking sense to Kim Jong-un. The reopening of the facility will benefit the North, as it is one of the very rare sources of hard income for the Kim's regime. Over a hundred South Korean companies operating in the complex were employing approximately 53,000 North Korean workers and 800 South Korean staff. Their wages, totaling some $90 million each year, rather than being paid directly to the workers, had been paid directly to the North Korean government. The functioning of the complex is essential for the sanction-ridden economy where poverty is rampant and a significant number of North Koreans are still deprived of adequate food supplies.

In addition, the North's announcement to consider reopening the facility came only after the South indicated it was looking into the prospect of closing the complex for good. The opening of the complex hence does not signify an improvement in relations, but rather the North going back on a useless and redundant diplomatic show of animosity which hurt itself more than it did South Korea.

The North and the South both still have significant differences that are bound to come to light once again should relations take a bad turn for any reason. The South is still insecure and extremely opposed to the North's nuclear capabilities. Considering the history of relations between the two neighbors and the unpredictability of Kim Jong-un's policies, it would be a folly to consider the reopening of the complex a major and significant step towards better relations. Unless core issues that cause the enmity between the two countries such as the nuclear issue are addressed, no genuine or permanent improvement in relations can be expected. Yet, the difficulties of reaching a compromise on any core issue with Kim Jong-un's regime has its own impossibilities.