New York Times reports on Kaesong Zone

Although the article did not offer much new or probing analysis, there were a few data points that I thought it was important to highlight: 

Despite its isolation and prisonlike feel, the Kaesong Industrial Park is booming with construction. The park’s operator, a South Korean developer, Hyundai Asan, hopes to expand it into a minicity over the next 12 years, with high-rise apartments and hotels, an artificial lake and three golf courses.

By that time, the company hopes there will be about 2,000 factories here employing 350,000 North Koreans and producing $20 billion worth of goods a year.

That compares with a manufacturing output of only $366 million in the first half of this year, according to South Korea’s unification ministry.

In the six months through June, the flow of goods in and out of the industrial park accounted for 42 percent of the $881 million in trade between the two Koreas, the ministry said.


[…] 72 smaller South Korean companies have already built factories here, looking to tap the North’s supply of low-cost, Korean-speaking labor. So far, only one foreign company has come [–German auto parts maker Prettl Group is building a factory. Two Chinese companies will begin operations soon[, b]ut most companies here continue to be smaller South Korean firms, producing low-tech goods, from frying pans to running shoes, largely for domestic consumption.] (NKeconWatch combined two different paragraphs here)

The piecemeal brand of change is seen in the experiences of SJ Tech, a South Korean maker of car and cellphone parts that built a $4 million factory here four years ago. The company’s first North Korean employees had never even seen a keyboard, much less a computer, said Yoo Chang-geun, SJ Tech’s president. SJ Tech has spent so much time teaching them things like machinery operation and management concepts that Mr. Yoo jokingly calls his factory “North Korea’s first business school.”

But the North Koreans were eager learners, sketching keyboards on paper to teach themselves typing. Now, SJ Tech’s 430 North Korean employees have learned enough to run the factory without South Korean supervisors.

In a telling sign, they have also changed their haircuts to look more like their South Korean colleagues.

Andrei Lankov seems optimistic on the project’s political goals, stating “When North and South Koreans can interact on a daily basis, it is a chance for the North Koreans to see with their eyes that their own propaganda doesn’t make sense.”

A few described how the South Korean-run industrial park was improving lives by paying its workers the equivalent of about $60 a month, three times the average salary in the rest of Kaesong. […]

The South Korean government, which spent more than $150 million subsidizing the park, provides low-interest loans and insurance to companies to offset the risks of investing in the unstable and still hostile North.

Mr. Yoo of SJ Tech said his North Korean employees’ monthly salaries of $75, in contrast to the $2,000 he pays South Koreans, made investing in North Korea entirely worthwhile, despite any risks.

The article seems to take worker compensation claims at face value, but in reality Kaesong workers do not take home their allotted wages.  The DPRK government keeps most of them in taxes and administrative fees.  However, other non-monetary benefits make the jobs highly envied among North Korean workers.  Rumor has it that North Korean workers pay hefty bribes to get these jobs. 

Read the full article here:
Big Dreams for North Korean Industrial Park
New York Times
Martin Fackler


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