North Korea’s renewed negotiations over Kaesong are more about the weather than nuclear diplomacy

South Korean protesters demand negotiations to reopen Kaesong.
South Korean protesters demand negotiations to reopen Kaesong.
Image: AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon
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South Korea and North Korea have finally agreed to hold talks this weekend aimed at re-opening the shuttered Kaesong industrial complex just inside North Korea near their border. Curiously, the weather appears to have played an important role—with the beginning of the rainy season, the South’s abandoned machinery is beginning to rust and the risk of prolonged power cuts is growing.

Kaesong, a joint North and South cooperative zone that once employed over 50,000 North Korean workers, was closed in April when the North threw a tantrum and began threatening nuclear war. North Korea kicked out the 120-odd South Korean businesses operating there and held seven managers hostage until bills had been settled. Those allowed to leave fled over the border in vehicles laden with what property they could take.

But most of the heavy machinery and stock was abandoned. The South Korean companies which operated at Kaesong have been piling the pressure on Seoul to persuade the North to allow them to visit. One Kaesong manager complained to DailyNK News that if the park had reopened a few weeks ago “it may have been possible to normalize the factory. Now the supplies and machines have all rusted and clearly will become useless,” he said.

South Korean managers will no doubt be pleased that Seoul and Pyongyang have agreed to talk. But many are still skeptical—the first high level talks in six years between the two were cancelled at the beginning of June over a fight about who would lead each delegation. Kaesong is materially important to the North—it paid out around $90 million each year in wages and other valuable hard currency fees—so however much they disagree, there’s a chance the discussions do actually take place.