South Korea calls North Korea's bluff and wins

President Park Geun-hye of South Korea has more stones than Barack Obama. She isn't content to lead from behind when it comes to dealing with North Korea. Instead of groveling apologies, she called a bluff.  Jack Kim of Reuters reports:

Impoverished North Korea said on Wednesday it was reopening the troubled Kaesong industrial zone jointly run with the wealthy South just minutes after Seoul signalled its willingness to let it close for good.

The North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, which handles Pyongyang's ties with Seoul, proposed talks aimed at normalising the project and said the safety of South Koreans visiting the factory park would be guaranteed.

The committee was "prompted by its desire to bring about a new phase of reconciliation, cooperation, peace, reunification and prosperity by normalizing operation in the Kaesong zone", it said in unusually conciliatory remarks.

The comments were carried by the North's official KCNA news agency about 90 minutes after South Korea announced steps to compensate its firms that operate factories in Kaesong for losses - a step widely seen as a move towards shutting down the rivals' last symbol of cooperation. (snip)

The decision to pay 109 South Korean small and medium-sized manufacturers from a government insurance fund came after the North went for 10 days without responding to what Seoul said was its "final offer" for talks aimed at reopening the project.

The North Koreans had far more to lose than Park. The 53,000 laborers working in factories belonging to 109 Korean companies are paid in hard currency, and the state keeps the lion's share of their take. There are precious few other sources of hard currency for the North, even counting sales of nuclear technology, drugs, and counterfeiting.  

Kaesong's principal value to the South is that it gives them leverage and a window into the North, and serves to make cooperation more attractive than confrontation for the North. But the regime seemed to need a ritual heightening of tensions to solidify support for the third generation Kim who inherited the communist dictatorship among all factions of the military, bureaucratic, and police structure that maintains power.

President Park appears to be made of the same steel as her father, the dictator Park Chung-hee, who was assasinated by his own security forces, but who also laid the groundwork for the economic miracle.  She has now forced the North to back down. This is a huge change in momentum. It remains to be seen if any heads roll in the North over this, nor do we have any idea who pushed the capitulation. Park is far too smart to start crowing over having humiliated the North.

Unfortunately, the big beneficiary of this lessening of tension is likely to be China, not the US, as Walter Russell Meade notes:

The North's decision seems to reflect a deference to Chinese pressure to make nice with the South and cool tensions in East Asia. This is the kind of "nice" that China likes: it sweetens Beijing's relationship with South Korea without doing anything for Japan. China would love to build warmer ties to Seoul, drawing the South away from the US and eventually, perhaps, facilitating the reunification of the Korean peninsula.

 

President Park Geun-hye of South Korea has more stones than Barack Obama. She isn't content to lead from behind when it comes to dealing with North Korea. Instead of groveling apologies, she called a bluff.  Jack Kim of Reuters reports:

Impoverished North Korea said on Wednesday it was reopening the troubled Kaesong industrial zone jointly run with the wealthy South just minutes after Seoul signalled its willingness to let it close for good.

The North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, which handles Pyongyang's ties with Seoul, proposed talks aimed at normalising the project and said the safety of South Koreans visiting the factory park would be guaranteed.

The committee was "prompted by its desire to bring about a new phase of reconciliation, cooperation, peace, reunification and prosperity by normalizing operation in the Kaesong zone", it said in unusually conciliatory remarks.

The comments were carried by the North's official KCNA news agency about 90 minutes after South Korea announced steps to compensate its firms that operate factories in Kaesong for losses - a step widely seen as a move towards shutting down the rivals' last symbol of cooperation. (snip)

The decision to pay 109 South Korean small and medium-sized manufacturers from a government insurance fund came after the North went for 10 days without responding to what Seoul said was its "final offer" for talks aimed at reopening the project.

The North Koreans had far more to lose than Park. The 53,000 laborers working in factories belonging to 109 Korean companies are paid in hard currency, and the state keeps the lion's share of their take. There are precious few other sources of hard currency for the North, even counting sales of nuclear technology, drugs, and counterfeiting.  

Kaesong's principal value to the South is that it gives them leverage and a window into the North, and serves to make cooperation more attractive than confrontation for the North. But the regime seemed to need a ritual heightening of tensions to solidify support for the third generation Kim who inherited the communist dictatorship among all factions of the military, bureaucratic, and police structure that maintains power.

President Park appears to be made of the same steel as her father, the dictator Park Chung-hee, who was assasinated by his own security forces, but who also laid the groundwork for the economic miracle.  She has now forced the North to back down. This is a huge change in momentum. It remains to be seen if any heads roll in the North over this, nor do we have any idea who pushed the capitulation. Park is far too smart to start crowing over having humiliated the North.

Unfortunately, the big beneficiary of this lessening of tension is likely to be China, not the US, as Walter Russell Meade notes:

The North's decision seems to reflect a deference to Chinese pressure to make nice with the South and cool tensions in East Asia. This is the kind of "nice" that China likes: it sweetens Beijing's relationship with South Korea without doing anything for Japan. China would love to build warmer ties to Seoul, drawing the South away from the US and eventually, perhaps, facilitating the reunification of the Korean peninsula.

 

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