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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Feb. 11)

All News 09:09 February 11, 2017

Government should properly compensate Gaeseong businesses

It has been a year since the government closed the inter-Korean industrial complex in the North Korean city of Gaeseong. On Feb. 10, 2016, Seoul suspended business operations there following Pyongyang's fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6 and a long-range missile launch on Feb. 7.

Gaeseong had been the workplace for more than 50,000 North Koreans and 123 small businesses from South Korea. It was a key symbol of inter-Korean cooperation. The closure is not just an irreparable loss for businesses, but also a huge blow to the course of reconciliation of the two Koreas.

Reopening the factory zone has been raised by some heavyweight politicians from the opposition camp, timed with the first year of its closure. In a recent message on social media, leading presidential contender Moon Jae-in pledged to expand the complex and encourage more businesses to enter it and participate in other joint ventures. Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung, another presidential contender, and Sohn Hak-kyu, who just joined the minor opposition People's Party, have also announced their intentions to pursue its reopening.

There is more to consider -- besides Gaeseong's special symbol or the situation of the resident companies -- before making rash claims about restarting the inter-Korean complex. Proponents of the reopening should also consider the grave national security situation. North Korea's military threats are ongoing. During his first overseas visit, U.S. President Donald Trump's Defense Secretary Jim Mattis vowed an "effective and overwhelming response" if North Korean leader Kim Jong-un uses nuclear weapons.

President Park Geun-hye was hasty in deciding suddenly to terminate the biggest symbol of inter-Korean cooperation, which was established with the long-term goal of preparing for unification. Even Park's first unification minister, Ryu Gil-jae, expressed a negative view about the President's decision during a recent interview, saying that the Gaeseong complex should be reopened. However, it is premature to talk of reopening while North Korea keeps up its nuclear weapons development. Most importantly, reopening is not compatible with the U.N. sanctions against North Korea.

The estimated damages, calculated by an association representing the Gaeseong enterprises, exceeded 1.5 trillion won, and more than 1,000 South Korean workers at the industrial complex lost their jobs. The association said that the government has compensated only about 32 percent of losses so far.

The immediate concern is not reopening the complex but how to help the business owners facing mounting difficulties. It will be hard for the owners ever to trust the government's policies for inter-Korean ventures if the government keeps looking away from their hardships.

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