South Korean business owners that have operated at the Kaesong industrial park in North Korea requested approval to visit the inter-Korean complex on Wednesday, their seventh attempt since it was shuttered in 2016.
Before submitting applications for the visit to the Unification Ministry, the emergency committee of business owners explained that they need to inspect their business assets in the park and urged the government to come up with support measures.
Members of a committee of business owners, who operated in Kaesong industrial complex, hold placard reading, "We want to go to Kaesong industrial park" at a press conference in Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
“We have already applied for a visit to the North six times, but they were either rejected or deferred. We urge the government to permit our visit to check on our business facilities that we have left there,” the committee said.
The inter-Korean industrial park began operations in 2004 but was closed in February 2016 under the conservative Park Geun-hye administration following Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons tests.
Since then, the South Korean business operators that had to pull out from the industrial park abruptly have been requesting to be allowed to visit the North to check on their business assets.
The groups’ previous petition was made in October 2018, but it was postponed, as Pyongyang did not respond.
The committee has proposed to make the trip on Jan. 16, and 179 are expected to take part, allowing one person per company.
“We have tried our best to survive the past three years under the threats of bankruptcy, hoping for the industrial park to reopen,” the committee said. “The government says our businesses are normalized with compensation and emergency loans, but this is not true.”
The committee also urged the governments of the two Koreas to make efforts to persuade the international community to exempt Kaesong industrial exchanges from sanctions on the North.
On Wednesday, the Unification Ministry said it would consider different factors in reviewing the request.
“To protect the property rights, the government understands it is important for the business owners to visit North Korea to check on their business assets. We will consider various factors and negotiate with the North,” Unification Ministry spokesman Baek Tae-hyun said in a press conference Wednesday.
The spokesman also said the ministry shared detailed information on the business owners with the United States, including that their request for a visit is to check on assets.
However, the ministry drew the line on commenting on whether operations of the industrial complex would resume, saying that would be discussed when progress is made on denuclearization and sanctions are lifted.
The Unification Ministry is required to provide a formal response within seven days for applications to visit North Korea, according to the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act. The review period can be extend for 10 days.
The committee’s move reflects that it is pinning hopes on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s call for expanding inter-Korean cooperation and exchanges in his New Year’s speech on Jan. 1.
“For the present, we are willing to resume the Kaesong industrial park and Kumgangsan tourism without any precondition and in return for nothing, in consideration of the hard conditions of businesspersons of the South side who had advanced into the Kaesong industrial park and the desire of southern compatriots who are eager to visit the nation’s celebrated mountain,” Kim said.
By Jo He-rim (firstname.lastname@example.org)