Businesses in Kaesong Industrial Park struggling

According to Yonhap:

Once hailed as vanguards of reconciliation but now threatened by simmering animosity between the Koreas, a group of South Korean businessmen pleaded Thursday with senior lawmakers to safeguard their operations in North Korea against further political fallout.

Since North Korea mounted a deadly artillery attack on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong on Nov. 23, these seasoned businessmen have had jitters over the fate of their factories built in the western North Korean border town of Kaesong.

Considered the last remaining symbol of reconciliation between the divided countries, the joint industrial complex houses more than 120 South Korean firms employing 44,000 North Korean workers.

Holding a commercial fair at the National Assembly, representatives from eight companies and officials from their association mingled with two dozen lawmakers and scrambled to tout their products as bearing the messages of hope and peace.

“We have achieved a level of quality that enables us to compete with any other industrial complexes in the world,” Bae Hae-dong, chief of the association of South Korean factories, said in a speech. “Yet, we remain easily affected by inter-Korean political circumstances. We especially deplore the situation that has arisen since North Korea attacked Yeonpyeong.”

The shelling of the small fishing community killed two marines and two civilians in the most indiscriminate attack on South Korean soil since the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in a truce.

A travel ban imposed on North Korea a day after the attack remains in place, allowing only a limited amount of raw materials to be sent to Kaesong and hamstringing manufacturing operations there.

“We are suffering a 10-15 percent decline in production due to the ban,” said Kim Ssang-kyu, general manager at Pyxis Inc., which produces jewelry cases and other accessories.

Sung Hyun-sang, president of Mansung Corp., which makes women’s clothing, claimed the damage in production amounts to as much as 50 percent.

“We understand the ban is for the sake of our safety, but we’re sure the North Koreans won’t hurt us. They know how important we are” to their cash-strapped economy, Sung said.

“We can only worry and pray for now,” an official at Shinwon, which produces men’s suits, said, asking not to be named because his remark could be taken sensitively.

About 410 South Koreans remained in Kaesong as of Thursday, a drop from 760 on Nov. 23 when the artillery exchange erupted between the Koreas, according to the Unification Ministry in Seoul.

The Kaesong complex produced its first articles — kitchen pans — in 2004 even though the two Koreas had agreed four years earlier on the project in an effort to lessen border tension.

Combining South Korean capital and know-how with the cheap labor in North Korea, the park recently reached a total of US$1 billion in production. Supporters of the estate say its significance goes far beyond economic benefits.

“Kaesong has been a safety pin whenever the security on the Korean Peninsula sagged to a dangerous level,” Kim Choong-whan, a legislator with the ruling conservative Grand National Party (GNP), said in a speech.

Park Joo-sun, who is with the liberal Democratic Party (DP) and sponsored the fair, expressed hope that the park will survive the crisis sparked by the North’s shelling.

The fair was scheduled before the crisis, organizers said. The lawmakers who attended it included Park Jie-won, a DP lawmaker who led the organization of the 2000 summit, and Lee Sang-deuk, President Lee Myung-bak’s older brother who is a GNP legislator.

“Sir, please help us,” Bae told the influential lawmaker touring the booths set up at the fair.

Gently embracing Lee with his arm in a show of friendship, another businessman smiled widely and whispered to Lee, “This is the lifeline of peace.”

In a brief interview on the sidelines, Lee downplayed the economic damage the South Korean firms said they have incurred since the travel ban on North Korea came into effect on Nov. 24.

“They should and can withstand this. It is a risk they were willing to take,” he said as he stepped onto the elevator taking him to his office inside the building.

Vice Unification Minister Um Jong-sik, who admitted in a speech that the companies were suffering drops in production, would not say how long the ban will stay in effect.

“All things and situations must be considered before we can make a decision,” he said after a long pause, when asked if South Korean artillery drills planned for next week in the Yellow Sea would prompt the ministry to extend the ban.

“For now, we’re doing our best to listen to these companies and address their needs as much as we can,” he said as he left the fair with two bags full of clothing he bought from Mansun Corp.

South Korea and the United States ended their four-day joint naval drills mobilizing an American aircraft carrier in the Yellow Sea on Wednesday, a move they believed would intimidate North Korea into calling off further acts of provocation.

The U.S. has 28,500 forces stationed in South Korea, a legacy of the Korean War in which it led U.N. forces to fight against North Korea. Since a U.S. commander drew a line separating the waters of the Koreas at the end of the war, the North has denied its validity, triggering a series of deadly naval clashes there with the South.

North Korea says any further artillery drills by the South on Yeonpyeong, less than 10 kilometers from the North Korean coast, are bound to violate its waters because the Northern Limit Line is null.

The communist state maintains that it fired at Yeonpyeong because it had been provoked by South Korean forces shooting artillery shells at its side across from Yeonpyeong.

Read the full story here:
Businessmen plead for help as tension threatens their factories in N. Korea
Sam Kim


Comments are closed.