North Korea Pulls 53,000 Workers from Joint Factories With South
In the North Korean town Kaesong, an industrial complex run by both North and South Korea has been operating for years despite military and political tensions between the two countries, including an artillery attack on South Korean island three years ago.
But Kim Yang Gon, a secretary of the Central Committee of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, released the announcement Monday that it would be withdrawing all 53,000 workers from Kaesong industrial complex, the latest news in deteriorating North-South relations. This was an unexpected move, considering the profit that the North gains from the complex.
The North “will temporarily suspend the operations in the zone and examine the issue of whether it will allow its existence or close it,” the country’s official Korean Central News Agency quoted Kim Yang Gon as saying after his visit to Kaesong on Monday.
North Korea has been denouncing the joint military drills South Korea and the United States conduct at its border annually, and crippling United Nations sanctions following its third nuclear test, conducted in February. The US recently deployed a missile shield to the island of Guam. However, the BBC reported Monday that the South Korean Defense Minister doubted any plans for a nuclear test due to no unusual movements around the North’s atomic site, though suspicions in the international community remain high.
Also in protest to drills and sanctions, North Korea has blocked South Korean managers and cargo trucks from crossing the heavily armed border to Kaesong for the last six days. The blockade resulted in 20 South Korean factories to stop operating as of Monday.
China, North Korea’s sole financial backer and important diplomatic ally, expressed sharp criticism about the threats from North Korea, and claimed it would not tolerate any misbehavior in the region. A ministry spokesman for China Hong Lei told a Beijing briefing that China “believes that the only way to realize denuclearization is dialogue among all the parties concerned,” al-Jazeera reported.
However, South Korea does not believe that peace talks would be helpful at this point – holding talks despite threats from the North to attack them and Washington with nuclear weapons would be excessively conciliatory and would only encourage the North to continue with its threats, spokesmen from the South Korean ministry have asserted.
Despite concerns with North-South relations, Pyongyang has little proven ballistic capability ranging to the intercontinental level, experts say. This type of capability would be needed in order for it to reach more distant US targets, and many believe it unlikely that the North will be able to mount a nuclear warhead on a mid-range missile.
People in South Korea have expressed little concern – for them, threats are not unusual, and the general public holds little concern of nuclear attack. It was not uncommon for North Korea under Kim Jong Il during his reign to threaten to strike the US and South Korea.
Despite this, the South is maintaining a firm stance, and US Defense Minister Chuck Hagel has suspended the test of an intercontinental missile in order to make efforts not to provoke increased escalation from North Korea.