North Korea Pressures South by Halting Entry to Industrial Zone
Pyongyang – North Korea closed access to a joint factory zone with South Korea on Wednesday, officials said, putting at risk $2 billion a year in trade that is vital for an impoverished state with a huge army, nuclear ambitions and a hungry population.
The move marked an escalation in North Korea’s months-long standoff with South Korea and its ally Washington. On Tuesday, Pyongyang said it would restart a mothballed nuclear reactor, drawing criticism from the international community, including China, its major benefactor and diplomatic friend.
In Beijing, China’s deputy foreign minister met ambassadors from the United States and both Koreas to express “serious concern” about the Korean peninsula, China’s Foreign Ministry said, in a sign China is increasingly worried about events spinning out of control. The ministry said the meetings with Deputy Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui took place on Tuesday.
South Korea demanded Pyongyang allow access to the Kaesong Industrial Park, which lies just inside North Korea. It said North Korea would allow the roughly 800 South Korean factory managers and workers in the zone to return home, but added that only 36 had opted to do so on Wednesday, indicating factories were still operating.
Those remaining in the zone were there by choice but could run out of food because all supplies needed to be trucked in from South Korea, said the Unification Ministry, which handles Seoul’s matters with North Korea. “If this issue is prolonged, the government is aware of such a situation materializing,” ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk told reporters when asked about food shortages.
The industrial park has not formally stopped operations since it was inaugurated in 2000 as part of efforts to improve ties between the two Koreas. It houses 123 companies and employs 50,000 North Koreans making cheap goods such as clothing. (Reuters)