Informal Institute for National Security Thinkers and Practitioners - News from the Associate Director, Security Studies Program
Monday, July 8, 2013
South Korea's Kaesong Blunder: Seoul agrees to reopen a source of cash for North Korea's dictator.
I disagree. I think that the ROK has the upper hand and it is the right thing to do in accordance with President Park's trustpolitik policy. (although I am under no illusion that such engagement will prevent north Korean violent acts of provocation - those are an integral part of its blackmail diplomacy and they will not cease). Yes it means potential money for the north; however, the bargaining chip belongs to the ROK. If it does reopen then it will again provide some access and influence and those 53,000 workers are potentially important in support unification in the long term. Second, when the north breaks the deal again as it likely will the ROK will retain the moral high ground. And most importantly the ROK (and US) have held firm on the nuclear issues. We should remember that a part of the trustpolitik policy is to not tie everything to the nuclear issue. The ROK and President Park have the self confidence necessary to deal with the recalcitrant north because actions are supported by the strength of the ROK/US Alliance.
South Korea threw Pyongyang a lifeline over the weekend with an agreement to reopen the Kaesong industrial complex. Since the North closed the cross-border manufacturing zone in April, Seoul had an opportunity to let it die and compensate the companies that were led into this mess a decade ago by then President Kim Dae-jung. Instead the new administration of Park Geun-hye is repeating one of the worst mistakes of the misbegotten "Sunshine Policy" of a decade ago.
The Kim Jong Eun regime will again collect $90 million per year in wages allegedly for its workers, a sum that, believe it or not, could make a critical difference in its survival. Coming as the United Nations begins its investigation into human-rights abuses in the North, such a subsidy will be judged harshly by history.
Better yet for the North, it gets to keep Kaesong as a bargaining chip. The South's managers are potential hostages—in the past they have been prevented from leaving. And Seoul evidently believes that keeping Kaesong open is important to preserving peace between the two sides, which means the mind games will continue.