Number of foreign visitors to Kaesong rises sharply this year

Korea Herald

An increasing number of foreigners have visited an inter-Korean industrial complex in the North Korean border city of Gaeseong this year as the North’s relations with foreign countries thaw after the communist state took steps to denuclearize, Yonhap News Agency reported.

In the first half of this year, 324 foreigners, including ambassadors and potential investors, toured the capitalist enclave where South Korean businesses use low-cost, skilled North Korean workers to produce goods, according to government data released Tuesday.

“The Gaeseong industrial complex combines the South’s capital and technology with the North’s labor and land to show foreigners the future of the Korean Peninsula,” a Unification Ministry official said.

Only five foreigners visited the complex in 2005 when the North first permitted foreign visits. In the first half of last year, the number increased to 295, but it dwindled to 104 in the second half as North Korea conducted missile and nuclear weapons tests.

The industrial complex, the crowning achievement of a landmark summit between the leaders of the two Koreas in 2000, is one of two major cross-border projects that South Korea has kept afloat in spite of United Nations sanctions against the the North following its nuclear weapons test in October. The two Koreas also run a joint tourism project at the North’s scenic Mount Geumgang on the east coast.

N. Korea Refuses to Accept Visitors
Korea Times
Jung Sung-ki

South Korea’s Unification Ministry said Tuesday that the operation of the inter-Korean industrial complex in North Korea’s border city of Gaeseong will be not affected by Pyongyang’s abrupt cancellation of scheduled events for South Korean visitors this week.

On Monday, North Korea asked South Korea to postpone South Koreans’ visits to the economic zone without specifying any reasons, ministry officials said.

Some local media reported various speculations about the North’s ulterior motive. The DongA Ilbo newspaper said North Korean leader Kim Jong-il could visit Gaeseong and that might be a reason for the cancellation.

“The North didn’t specify reasons, but company executives and workers in Gaeseong are commuting to the complex freely as usual,’’ ministry spokesman Kim Nam-sik told reporters.

About 100 South Korean government officials and journalists were scheduled to visit the business compound Tuesday, followed by visits by hundreds of South Korean business officials on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Gaeseong complex, just north of the heavily fortified Korean border, is considered one of the main achievements of the landmark inter-Korean summit in 2000. The zone is called a testing ground for mixing South Korean capitalism and technology with the North’ cheap labor.

Twenty three South Korean firms produce goods ranging from clothes to kitchenware there, employing about 15,000 North Korean workers. The number of North Korean employees is expected to increase to more than 350,000 when the complex becomes fully operational by 2012, officials said.

Monthly production in the complex exceeds $10 million.

The inter-Korean economic zone has gained attention from foreign countries with the number of foreign tourists steadily increasing, according to the ministry.


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