Skip to main content

South Korea presses North for talks on crisis at joint industrial zone

By Jethro Mullen and K.J. Kwon, CNN
updated 6:17 AM EDT, Thu April 25, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Seoul is signaling to Pyongyang it could shut down the complex, an analyst says
  • South Korea calls on North to respond to offer of talks by noon on Friday
  • It warns of "grave" measures regarding the zone if Pyongyang rejects the offer
  • North Korea suspended activity at the joint industrial zone this month

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- South Korea on Thursday warned North Korea of serious consequences if it rejects an offer for talks about the dire situation at their shared manufacturing zone where Pyongyang has halted activity amid recent tensions.

The South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-seok urged the North to respond to the offer of talks by noon Friday, saying South Koreans inside the zone, the Kaesong Industrial Complex, are facing "serious difficulties due to lack of food and medical supplies."

Kim said that if Pyongyang turns down the offer, Seoul would have no choice but to take "grave" measures regarding the zone. He did not specify what those measures would be.

Seen as the last major symbol of cooperation between the two countries, the Kaesong complex is a joint economic zone on the North's side of the border that houses the operations of more than 120 South Korean companies.

Earlier this month, during a frenzy of fiery rhetoric directed at South Korea and the United States, the North began blocking South Koreans from entering the complex across the heavily fortified border.

Emergency service personnel wearing chemical protective clothing participate in an anti-chemical warfare exercise on Tuesday, April 16 in Seoul. Tensions remain high in the Korean Peninsula in the wake of North Korea's recent nuclear threats and provocations. A Pentagon intelligence assessment suggests the North may have the ability to deliver a nuclear weapon with a ballistic missile, though the reliability is believed to be "low." Emergency service personnel wearing chemical protective clothing participate in an anti-chemical warfare exercise on Tuesday, April 16 in Seoul. Tensions remain high in the Korean Peninsula in the wake of North Korea's recent nuclear threats and provocations. A Pentagon intelligence assessment suggests the North may have the ability to deliver a nuclear weapon with a ballistic missile, though the reliability is believed to be "low."
Militaries and Korean tensions
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: Militaries and Korean tensions Photos: Militaries and Korean tensions
China's influence in the N. Korea crisis
Korean War separates family for 60 years
North Korea's reluctance to talk

It then pulled out the more than 50,000 North Koreans who work in the zone's factories, saying it was temporarily suspending activity there. The move surprised some observers, since Kaesong was considered to be a key source of hard currency for the regime of Kim Jong Un.

The production halt was one of the most tangible signs of the heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula in the past few weeks. The situation had deteriorated after the North carried out its latest underground nuclear test in February, prompting the U.N. Security Council to tighten sanctions on the regime in Pyongyang.

The tougher sanctions, together with joint U.S.-South Korean military training exercises in South Korea, generated an intensification in North Korea's threats against Washington and Seoul.

The North's fiery rhetoric, which unnerved the United States enough for it to move missile-defense systems into the region, has since appeared to calm somewhat. And the U.S.-South Korean military exercises are due to end in the coming days.

But the situation at the Kaesong complex remains up in the air.

Some South Koreans, who manage the factories in the zone, have remained inside since the North started preventing people from entering from across the border. If they leave, they don't know when they'll be allowed back in.

The number of non-North Koreans in the complex has steadily dwindled from more than 800 before the crisis began. As of Wednesday, 176 South Koreans and one Chinese person remained in the Kaesong complex, according to South Korean authorities.

Citing the difficulties experienced by those still inside the zone and the harm the situation is doing to the companies involved, Kim, the Unification Ministry spokesman, said Thursday that the complex couldn't be left as it is.

He said the talks South Korea is proposing would aim to "resolve the humanitarian problem" of those still inside the zone and to normalize operation of the factories.

"South Korea is signaling to the North that they are willing to consider the option of shutting down the Kaesong Industrial Complex," said Jasper Kim, founder of the Asia-Pacific Global Research Group in Seoul. "But in all likelihood that is not what it wants."

He said that although the economic cost of closing the complex would hurt the North more than the South, Seoul is more likely to be concerned about the political consequences of bringing an end to the symbol of cooperation.

There didn't appear to be an immediate reaction from North Korea on its state-run Korean Central News Agency.

READ MORE: North Korea says it won't warn South Korea before an attack

OPINION: North Korea already won

OPINION: Why I fled North Korea

CNN's K.J. Kwon reported from Seoul, and Jethro Mullen reported and wrote from Hong Kong.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:24 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As soon as word broke that "The Interview" will hit some theaters, celebrations erupted across social media -- including from the stars of the film.
updated 1:44 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Did a rogue hacker -- or the U.S. government -- cut the cord for the regime's Internet?
updated 3:22 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
The United States and North Korea have long been locked in a bitter cycle of tensions. But the current cyber conflict may be especially hard to predict.
updated 1:49 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
A defector from the North Korean government says the country's cyberwarfare is more dangerous than its nuclear weaponry.
updated 8:27 AM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
North Korea warns the United States that U.S. "citadels" will be attacked, dwarfing the hacking attack on Sony that led to the cancellation of a comedy film's release.
updated 10:43 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
North Korea's fury over the movie comedy "The Interview" appears to have taken the secretive state's oversensitivity to new extremes.
updated 8:57 PM EST, Mon December 8, 2014
A retired Silicon Valley executive and Korean War veteran was hauled off his plane at Pyongyang in 2013. Here's what happened next.
updated 5:57 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
A recent defector from North Korea tells of the harrowing escape into China via Chinese 'snakehead' gangs.
updated 7:39 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
CNN's Amara Walker speaks to a former North Korean prison guard about the abuses he witnessed and was forced to enact on prisoners.
updated 12:59 AM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
The chief of the Commission of Inquiry into North Korea's human rights says the world can no longer plead ignorance to the regime's offenses.
updated 7:34 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Kim Jong Il's former bodyguard tells of the beatings and starvation he endured while imprisoned in the country's most notorious prison camp.
updated 1:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
Despite tense relations, China benefits from Kim Jong Un's rule in North Korea. David McKenzie explains.
updated 4:51 AM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
North Korea has "the world's most advantageous human rights system" and citizens have "priceless political integrity", the country declared.
ADVERTISEMENT