Here’s a look inside the world’s most diplomatically sensitive businesses

July 9, 2013
July 9, 2013

One of the (many) oddities of the relationship between North Korea and South Korea is the Kaesong industrial zone jointly operated by the two countries—and, until recently, its continued operation even amid escalating hostilities between the two nations.

North Korea shuttered the cooperative zone in April amid one of its periodic diplomatic tantrums, kicking out the 120-some South Korean businesses operating there and holding seven managers hostage until bills had been settled. But Kaesong, which once employed over 50,000 workers, has been a rare, vital source of hard currency to fund the North Korean regime. (Among other things, the North Koreans’ wages of about $57 per worker per month, totaling about $80 million a year, are paid directly to their government.)

Now, following a round of talks between the two countries, it’s scheduled to open again on Wednesday. The reopening could be rocky: Some of the South Korean managers say the factory equipment rusted during the rainy season, and is effectively useless at this point.

Here’s a look at some of the drama around Kaesong—and what it’s like inside.

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Kaesong Industrial Complex
Kitchenware company Living Art was the first South Korean firm to start production in Kaesong. Seen here in a 2004 photo are North Koreans working in the factory.(Reuters)
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Kaesong Industrial Complex
There’s also a garlic processing factory. (Pictured here in 2007.)(Reuters/Lee Jae Won)
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Kaesong Industrial Complex
A wire manufacturer. (Pictured earlier this year.)(AP Photo/Jean H. Lee)
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Kaesong Industrial Complex
And a Western-style suit factory. (Seen earlier this year.)(AP Photo/Jean H. Lee)
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Kaesong Industrial Complex
Which also makes dresses.(Reuters/Lee Jae Won)
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Kaesong Industrial Complex
There are roughly 120 South Korean factories in the complex.(Reuters/Ho New)
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South Korean workers leaving Kaesong
When South Korean workers were forced to leave their factories in April, many took as much as possible along with them.(Reuters/Lee Jae Won)
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Kaesong
Armed guards have paroled the boundaries of the Kaesong complex since it was closed.(AP Photo)
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Kaesong Industrial Complex
South Koreans have since rallied for North Korea to re-start operations.(Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji)
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Agreement Kaesong Industrial Complex
Working-level talks between the two Koreas resulted in an agreement to reopen the park on Wednesday.(Reuters)

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