Kaesong Industrial Park Hits the Maistream

You know you have arrived when you are covered by the Washingon Post:

Two Koreas Learn to Work as One: New Industrial Park Matches South’s Capital and Know-How With North’s Low-Cost Labor
By Anthony Faiola, Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, February 28, 2006; Page A10

Here are the highlights:


  • Kaesong Industrial Park is two-thirds the size of Manhattan.  Only a fraction of its real estate currently developed.  15 factories already operating. One is called Shinwon Textile Factory. (Source)
  • A South Korean telephone company has installed the first 340 of 10,000 planned phone lines.  Because of the communist state’s chronic shortages of electricity, the South Koreans have had to run power lines across the border to serve their factories.  The goal (starting next month) is 154000 kilowats (source).
  • Some company representatives concede that the North Koreans are not always ideal business partners.
  • A tall green wire fence marks the zone’s 8.6-kilometer-long boundary (Source)
  • South Korea is assuming all the financial risk, having invested more than $2 billion  (source). Kim Dong-keun, president of the South Korean Committee, which co-manages the zone, says the 489 South Koreans who work in Kaesong receive special training on interacting with North Koreans.   For South Korean managers, Kaesong is considered a hardship posting.  As a result, many of them receive as much as $2,500 extra pay per month (Source). No South Korean money is accepted here, even at a Family Mart convenience store set up for the exclusive use of South Korean employees (Source).
  • 50 year leases were auctioned off last summer. On Average, there were 4 South Korean companies vieing for each spot. 

Labor Relations and Statistics

  • After the first busloads of North Korean workers arrived at the gates 16 months ago, weeks passed before people from the two societies could even understand each other’s dialect.  They had to explain virtually every aspect of modern life to his fresh-faced communist charges — down to how to use the factory’s Western-style toilets.
  • The workers put in long hours at often grueling tasks, but life here nonetheless seems a cut above the poverty that is common in most of North Korea. 
  • Although the zone currently employs about 6,000 North Koreans here, officials in Seoul project that an additional 15,000 North Koreans will start work as more than 20 South Korean companies move in. By 2012, plans call for as many as 700,000 employees — 4.5 percent of North Korea’s entire workforce.
  • Thousands of workers live in on-site dorms, while others arrive by bus from Kaesong. South Koreans are not permitted beyond a bright green perimeter fence that is guarded by armed soldiers and separates the complex from nearby towns.
  • North Korean workers are paid a fixed salary of $57.50 a month. That is about 20 times less than the pay of a South Korean worker of the same skill level, but it is a welcome sum in North Korea.  It is unclear how much of that money actually goes to the North Korean workers. The dollar-denominated checks issued by the South Korean companies are paid to a North Korean government agency. Na Un Suk, director general of North Korea’s Central Special Economic Zone Control Agency, said the government makes deductions for room and board provided to the employees before paying them varying amounts in North Korean currency.  The Los Angeles Times reports that workers get $8/month.  About double the average salary (Source).
  • Although South Korean managers have some say in promoting workers, they have little role in choosing who arrives on their doorstep. Many employees are from Kaesong city — the ancient capital of the Goryeo kingdom that first united much of the Korean Peninsula. But all are picked by officials from the North Korean government.
  • North Korean workers are forbidden from any contact with South Koreans except when necessary on the job.  They enter and leave the zone through a single checkpoint manned by North Korean soldiers. (Source)
  • Managers from South Korea live in single-story temporary quarters that resemble military barracks. Typically, they go home twice a month.  “It’s very difficult,” says Kim Ki Hong, general manager of a branch of the only South Korean bank in the zone. “We cannot go outside,” says Mr. Kim. “We are almost prisoners.”(Source). Southerners also have their own cafeteria and their own medical clinic, all off limits to the North Koreans (Source). 
  • In response to queries about their wages, a young North Korean woman murmurs, “I cannot say anything,” and another says only, “We get enough.”
  • Everyone here has at least a high school education. Many of them are college grads. But the most convenient is the fact that they all speak Korean. It’s easier to train them,” said Ryu Nam-Ryul, a section manager at Taesung Industry
  • North Korean patriotic music in praise of Kim blares over the loudspeakers.


  • Gaesong has also exempted foreign companies from corporate income taxes in the first five years, and gives a 50 percent reduction for three more years. (source)
  • Independent labor unions are banned.


  • Taesun Hata is exporting compact casings for Clinique and eye shadow holders for Bobbi Brown from its multimillion-dollar plant.
  • Southern companies make shoes, textiles, auto parts and kitchen implements
  • A branch of a major South Korean bank is open for business, as is a Family Mart convenience store staffed by two North Korean women.
  • Inter-korean trade surged 50% since last year, over $1 billion.

Political goals

  • The Zone is also key to South Korea’s strategy for lessening what is bound to be a massive economic jolt if it reunites with the North. North Korea’s per-capita income is roughly $1,800 a year, 10 times less than the South’s.
  • Officials say Kaesong is also meant to keep on course a program of market-oriented restructuring that the North is undertaking in its domestic economy.
  • South Korean companies have received low-interest loans and security guarantees from the South Korean government to locate in Kaesong.
  • South Korea no longer has to go to south east Asia for manufacturing.  they can undertake low-cost production in North Korea and undercut Chinese prices.(Source).  It takes only three hours to deliver the products from Gaesong to the South Korean warehouse, whereas it would take more than one week from China.(source)
  • “Our workers here are not motivated by material satisfaction. We are motivated by the fact that this is a national business project. We are one nation, and this is an important part of our unification process,” Na Un-Suk, director general of the Central Special Economic Zone Control Agency.

Future plans

  • South Korea’s state-run Korea Land Corp. and Hyundai Asan, the North Korea business arm of Hyundai Group, said Tuesday they plan to build a hotel at an industrial complex in the North by June next year. The two companies will invite a private enterprise to construct the hotel to resolve a shortage of accommodation at the complex in the North Korean border city of Kaesong.  To that end, the state land developer and Hyundai Asan will set up a joint venture to take charge of the hotel, they said. (Yonhap)
  • To grow as planned, the park will have to win access to world markets. South Korea hopes that products made here will be eligible to enter the United States under any free-trade pact that may be negotiated with the United States (Source).

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