Kaesong Zone update

According to Barbara Demick at the Los Angeles Times:

The numbers change daily, but as of early this month, 818 South Koreans were still working alongside roughly 43,000 North Koreans. Despite the supposed ban on North Korean products, South Korea recently accepted delivery of 20 tons of peeled garlic as well as $17,000 worth of clothing and $250,000 of electrical sockets.

Lim, who is in touch with many workers and managers, says that on a human level, relations between the Koreans at Kaesong are not as hostile as one might imagine. He paraphrased North Korean bureaucrats whispering to South Koreans, “We hate Lee Myung-bak’s government but not you as people.”

The South Koreans at Kaesong either commute — downtown Seoul is only 30 miles away — or live for up to two weeks at a time in dormitories attached to the factories. There they can watch South Korean television and make telephone calls home, although they have no access to the Internet.

Since the recent crisis erupted, the South Korean government has ordered Kaesong’s factory owners to reduce their staffing, fearful of what might happen if the war of words were to erupt into an actual war.

South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said during parliamentary committee meetings last month that there was a “a great possibility” that South Korean workers could be taken hostage by the North Koreans.

To South Korean factory owners, the idea is preposterous.

“People who have never been to Kaesong and who are only watching the television news keep asking our employees, ‘Are you guys all right?’ ” said Park Yoon-gyu, president of South Korean menswear manufacturer Fine Renown, which has operated out of Kaesong since 2008.

“We South Koreans and North Koreans have become very close to each other,” he said. “Yesterday’s enemies are today’s friends.”

But a South Korean worker who spoke anonymously to the conservative Chosun Ilbo newspaper gave a less sanguine account of the atmosphere at Kaesong. He said that armed North Korean soldiers had been seen inside the compound, despite rules forbidding their presence.

The man also said that North Korean employees were stealing food, office supplies and toilet paper, and even grass seeds from a newly planted lawn, apparently following official orders to take whatever they could from South Korean companies.

Both North and South Korea have substantial amounts of money at stake in Kaesong, which lies just south of the 38th parallel — where the peninsula was divided at the end of World War II — but changed hands during the Korean War.

Kaesong is home to 120 South Korean factories, each of which required an investment of as much as $8 million, according to scholar Lim. For cash-starved North Korea, Kaesong is one of the dwindling sources of hard currency. The North Korean workers receive monthly salaries of $70 to $80, of which all but about $20 goes to the government.

Even in the crisis, the industrial park could help defuse tensions. South Korea hasn’t followed through on its threat to resume propaganda broadcasts at the DMZ, in part out of concern about what might happen to workers at Kaesong. Loudspeakers have been installed at 11 locations but remain quiet — for now, at least.

As an aside, Paul Romer is trying to push the founding of charter cities as a new strategy of reducing poverty in the developing world.  A brief summary of his work has been published in The Atlantic and is worth a read.

You can read the full Los Angeles Times story here:
For Koreas, business park remains a neutral zone
Los Angeles Times
Barbara Demick and Ju-min Park


One Response to “Kaesong Zone update”

  1. Gag Halfrunt says:

    Of course, the “20 tons of peeled garlic as well as $17,000 worth of clothing and $250,000 of electrical sockets” are exempt from the ban on North Korean goods if they come from the Kaesong zone.