North Korea pressures South by closing industrial zone

The guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain sails in formation during exercise Foal Eagle 2013 in waters west of the Korean peninsula in this March 21, 2013 handout photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy. REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Declan Barnes/Handout
The guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain sails in formation during exercise Foal Eagle 2013 in waters west of the Korean peninsula in this March 21, 2013 handout photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy. REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Declan Barnes/Handout

North Korea closed access to a joint factory zone with South Korea this morning, 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.

Some South Korean experts said the North’s move might be temporary given the park is a financial lifeline to Pyongyang.

At the South Korean border city of Paju, there was a sense of foreboding that Kaesong would be closed permanently, dealing a death blow to the one remaining example of cooperation between the two Koreas.

“Trust between North and South will fall apart, as well as the trust we have with our buyers. We’re going to end up taking the damage from this,” Lee Eun-haeng, who runs an apparel firm in Kaesong, told Reuters on the southern side of the border.

Lee’s business employs 600 North Koreans who earn $130 on average a month.

The zone has major symbolic value for both North and South Korea. It generates cash for the North and acts as beacon for the economic prosperity of the South inside the grim, centrally planned North Korean economy where jobs are scarce.

“The North Korean workers there are said to have 300,000 family members,” said Ahn Chan-il, a former North Korean military official who defected to the South in 1979.

“Does electricity go off in the Kaesong factories at any time? No. But North Korean factories see that happen to their facilities all the time.”

WAR OF WORDS

North Korea’s latest war of words with Seoul and Washington ratcheted up when the United Nations imposed fresh sanctions on the country for its February 12 nuclear test. At the same time, South Korea and the United States have been staging annual war games, which Pyongyang claims are a prelude to an invasion. Those exercises run throughout April.

Despite the rhetoric and the cutting of telephone hot lines to the South, Pyongyang has not taken any military action and shows no sign of preparing its 1.2 million strong armed forces for war, Washington says.

That would indicate much of the vitriol is intended for domestic consumption to bolster young leader Kim Jong-un ahead of celebrations marking the anniversary of the birthday of Kim Il-sung, the state’s founder and the younger Kim’s grandfather, on April 15.

Kim has also used the rising tensions to cement his grip on power by appointing a key ally of his uncle and aunt as the country’s prime minister.

“At least until the end of April, when drills end, the North is likely to keep up the tensions as it had done in previous years,” said Cheong Seong-chang of the Sejong Institute think tank in Seoul.

The 30-year old Kim was showing the North could stand up to the United States and to South Korea’s new President Park Geun-hye, who took office just a week after the nuclear test, the country’s third, said the defector Ahn.

North Korea doesn’t have the economic power that South Korea has but it’s stressing its nuclear abilities to show that it can pull equal weight,” he said.

News of the Kaesong closure initially hurt South Korean financial markets. The won currency was trading at a six and a half-month low in early trade but later recovered.

North Korea is heavily reliant on Kaesong and China. Its powerful neighbor accounts for almost $6 billion in trade, according to estimates from Seoul.

One South Korean worker who travels in and out of the zone each day said North Koreans there had become less friendly as tensions had risen in the past month.

“They used to smile at my jokes or the soldiers at customs liked to chit chat. They really liked South Korean duty-free cigarettes but this week it all looks different,” said Jang Sun-woo.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
International

China's army changes tactics to prepare for war…

Chinese President Xi Jinping has said China will spur military innovation and called on the army to create a new strategy for "information warfare" as…

National

California passes 'yes-means-yes' campus sexual assault bill

Californian lawmakers passed a law on Thursday requiring universities to adopt "affirmative consent" language in their definitions of consensual sex, part of a nationwide drive to curb sexual assault on…

National

Syrian refugees top 3 million, half of all…

By Stephanie NebehayGENEVA (Reuters) - Three million Syrian refugees will have registered in neighboring countries as of Friday, but many remain trapped by the advance…

International

North Korean leader's money manager defects in Russia:…

A senior North Korean banking official who managed money for leader Kim Jong Un has defected in Russia and was seeking asylum in a third country, a South Korean newspaper…

Going Out

'Friends' coffeehouse Central Perk coming to NYC —…

"Friends" is coming back for a one-off special: "The One with the Free Coffee." Warner Bros. is bringing a pop-up replica of Central Perk, the…

Movies

Interview: 'As Above, So Below' directors: 5 ways…

The fraternal directors of the found footage horror "As Above, So Below" dish on the best ways to frighten the bejesus out of audiences.

Movies

Criterion's new Jacques Demy box mixes the light…

Jacques Demy, the most effervescent of French New Wave filmmakers, gets a Criterion box all to himself, with classics like "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg."

Entertainment

Comedian Joan Rivers, 81, rushed to New York…

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Acerbic comedian and fashion critic Joan Rivers was rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York on Thursday after she reportedly…

NFL

3 things we learned in the Giants preseason…

The final score didn’t matter — a 16-13 win by the Giants — but it would’ve been nice to finally see Big Blue’s new-look offense get on track.

NFL

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots, 49ers start…

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots start at top

U.S. Soccer

5 facts about new England captain Wayne Rooney

Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney was named as the new England captain by coach Roy Hodgson on Thursday.

NFL

Jets vs. Eagles: 3 things to watch

A win on Thursday night at the Eagles would give the Jets a 3-1 record and just their second winning preseason under head coach Rex Ryan.

Style

Trend: White hot on the 2014 Emmy's red…

White was one of the big trends on the Emmy's red carpet.

Food

Recipe: Samuel Adams beer-marinated grilled shrimp

Summer calls for two things: a cold beer and light food. Sam Adams' Latitude 48 IPA fairly bursts with citrus notes, making it an ideal marinade…

Wellbeing

4 healthy ingredient swaps to make your meals…

When it comes to eating well, everyone knows they could be doing better. But cooking in an apartment on a busy schedule is a recipe…

Wellbeing

Heart trumps brain when it comes to movies…

When you need a good cry, do you reach for the movie that’s “based on a true story”? Science says you’re giving your brain far…