Kaesong Industrial Complex Experiment In Harmony
DEBORAH AMOS, Host:
It may come as something of a surprise that every day, hundreds of workers from South Korea go to work in North Korea, and thousands of workers from North Korea go to jobs in South Korean factories. All this takes place in Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea, just across the border from South Korea. It's an experiment in building harmony between the two Koreas. But in the current crisis, it is coming under severe strain, as NPR's Mike Shuster reports.
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MIKE SHUSTER: Yu Jay Jong(ph) is a 58-year-old construction manager who has been working inside North Korea for more than seven years. Right now, he says there is no new construction underway, and the factories are operating at far-from-full capacity.
YU JAY JONG: (Through translator) All the processes are frozen right now. There is a low workforce, and the buildings are not constructed as planned.
SHUSTER: Are you worried there could be war?
JAY JONG: (Through translator) I don't want to think about it. It shouldn't happen. So far, I haven't felt anything like that.
SHUSTER: The North Koreans get paid in hard currency. The South Korean companies get cheap labor. And the goods that are produced help to sustain those companies and their hundreds of thousands of additional workers in South Korea. Hyundai Asan believes business can be most effective at bringing the two Koreas together. Their view is reflected in videos they've created to market their approach.
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SHUSTER: The Kaesong Industrial Complex was the beginning of the two Koreas' collaboration for mutual prosperity, connecting the land and the people, streaming into a dry land, and creating hope in this severed nation.
SHUSTER: In the standoff over North Korea's sinking of the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan, the Kaesong Industrial Complex is one of the few contacts North and South have maintained, but it hasn't been easy. North Korea has withheld much of the manpower the factories need to operate. South Korea has ordered some of its personnel out. The complex is still operating, but at a dramatically reduced capacity.
SHUSTER: Peace Shoes. Ju is concerned about the drop in production, but he doesn't think the worst will happen.
JU TONG WAN: (Through translator) I'm not scared. For us who actually work here, we don't feel such a danger. Well, I can even say that it's peaceful.
SHUSTER: Not everyone associated with the project is as confident. Kaesong's corporate association represents the investors in companies that are active in the project. Lee Eem Dong(ph) is its director. He says tensions are high right now. South Korea is threatening to send propaganda leaflets across the border by balloon and to blare anti-North Korean broadcasts by loud speaker. If the project collapses, he says, it could affect up to 200,000 jobs in South Korea, as well as the 40,000 North Koreas currently working at the factories, and possibly worse.
LEE EEM DONG: (Through translator) We just hope that our workers in Kaesong and also the North Korean workers be safe. Closing off the Kaesong Complex means war.
SHUSTER: That may explain why the complex is still operating, despite the threats from both sides, says Lee Sang-Hyun, director of security studies at the Sejong Institute. Kaesong is too valuable to walk away from.
LEE SANG: Kaesong is kind of a symbolic achievement. So I think South Korea does not want for closing unilaterally.
SHUSTER: Mike Shuster, NPR News, Seoul.
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