Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Question of Kaesong

Is North Korea prepared to close the Kaesong Industrial Complex? It could be the biggest question of all, except for the one about whether or not there will be a war.

And yet, as with all things involving the thin slicing of salami, it was never going to be that simple. No, for all North Korea did today was expel South Korean government officials from one particular office in the zone, the "North‐South Economic Cooperation Council."

Actually, not quite all. They also ceased communications between various authorities of North and South, for example the Red Cross, and announced that their belligerence would continue for as long as the "traitor" President Lee Myung Bak remains in power.

One can look at the Kaesong issue one of two ways. Either North Korea hasn't closed it because it cannot afford to close it, which seems unlikely since even North Korea's GDP is above the level at which the loss of $50 million per year would be seriously felt at the highest levels, or Pyongyang is keeping it in reserve to use as a pawn later. Closing it would be one of the few things North Korea could do which could not readily be undone, and so would need to be pondered long and hard in the corridors of power.

If it is the pawn rationale in play, and it probably is, there is a good side. The deliberate placing of obstacles in the way of war, as President Lee did in his speech on Monday and now the North has done by making a show of expelling eight South Korean government officials and then shouting about it rather than throwing out the whole show, proves that nobody has any intention of moving away from jaw-jaw.

This is bad news in terms of undermining the international community's strategy against North Korea, since announcing that you are ending all cooperative economic projects with the exception of the Kaesong Complex to punish North Korea is rather like saying you are closing all the coffee shops in the USA with the exception of those owned by Starbucks, but it depends on the ends one seeks.

If you are simply seeking to avoid a catastrophic conflict, look upon this kindly. If you are looking to bring down the last Cold War frontier, I'm afraid I won't be heading for Pyongyang with The Daily NK tomorrow, and you won't be reading about it either.

1 comment:

  1. I quite agree, in fact this piece raised my consciousness, but with one proviso. The international community's strategy as you call it or to use a more descriptive phrase 'the US strategy' will never work, without the assent of China, and Russia. Therefore, regardless of what Kim and Lee do, without China it is broadly speaking irrelevent.