Contrary to a recent North Korean statement suggesting that the regime was shutting down Kaesong once and for all, the factories are still shipping goods, although the experiment itself is pining for the fjords.
The complete failure of South Korea or the United States to respond to the sinking of the Cheonan with sufficient measures to deter the next attack, on one hand, and the failure of North Korea to extract more money from South Korea or the United States, on the other hand, causes me to think we’re going to see another North Korean escalation of the current crisis. One of the options available to Kim Jong Il about which I’d feel ambivalence would be a North Korean seizure of hostages at Kaesong. But of course, those afflicted with the Kaesong Syndrome will tell you that couldn’t possibly happen because of all that brotherly love between North and South Koreans:
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. [L.A. Times, Barbara Demick and Ju-Min Park]
Like I say, ambivalence. If a few months of captivity is what it takes to bring people to their senses, the experience will be worth the inconvenience. It would be unfortunate if the factory owners get to sit out the entire crisis watching it on MBC from Seoul.