By Kim Deok-hyun
BEIJING, Aug. 9 (Yonhap) -- South and North Korea could eventually narrow their differences and reopen their troubled joint factory zone in the communist country, a Chinese foreign-policy scholar said Friday, sounding a note of optimism about next week's fresh talks to revive it.
The last remaining symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation, the Kaesong Industrial Complex located in the North's border city of the same name has been shuttered since early April amid high tensions triggered by Pyongang's third nuclear test in February.
In an about-face, North Korea proposed this week a new round of talks be held Wednesday to discuss ways to reopen the factory zone, indicating that it would never shut it down again for political reasons, a precondition on which South Korea has been insisting. South Korea has accepted the North's offer of fresh talks.
Shi Yongming, an associate research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies, said neither Seoul nor Pyongyang wants the permanent closure of the Kaesong park.
"Actually, both sides don't like to stop the Kaesong Industrial Complex. So, I think they would find ways to resolve the issue," Shi told Yonhap News Agency in an interview at his office in Beijing.
In July, the two Koreas held six rounds of drawn-out negotiations to resume operations at the Kaesong zone, but little progress was made, as both sides had insisted on their own terms for resumption.
Shi urged the two Koreas to stop putting the blame on each other for the shutdown and instead sign a binding agreement to keep the factory park intact, even in times of political tensions.
"Both sides should not talk who are responsible for the shutdown," Shi said. "Instead, both sides should sign a new agreement that gives very clear terms that the Kaesong program is a business program and a pure commercial industrial park."
"If they sign a clear agreement, it will save the faces of both sides," the scholar said.
The North's new offer of talks came shortly after South Korea said it would begin insurance payments to South Korean businesses locked out of the Kaesong zone, a move seen as presaging a permanent closure of the complex.
The industrial park came to a halt in early April when North Korea pulled all its 53,000 workers from 123 South Korean plants there amid rising military tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The halt is estimated to have cost the South Korean firms 1.05 trillion won (US$945 million) in lost production and other expenses.
China's patience with North Korea has been wearing increasingly thin, particularly after the North's February nuclear test. North Korea publicly declared that its nuclear weapons program is non-negotiable, but senior Chinese officials have reportedly said they won't accept the North as a nuclear state.
The North's strategy of developing its economy while maintaining its nuclear program "could hurt friendly ties with China," Shi said.
"At the same time, the DPRK (North Korea) also wants to keep good relations with China, because if they are totally isolated, that means a strategic failure," the scholar said.
"If they want to keep good relations with China, they should do something about denuclearization," Shi said.
Asked about a possible visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to China this year, Shi replied, "So far, I haven't got any information about that."
"I myself think that if Kim Jong-un wants to visit China, he must agree with the talk of the issue about denuclearization. I think that's the first thing," the scholar said.
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