A successful summit between the leaders of the United States and North Korea could pave the way for the resumption of the inter-Korean industrial complex as early as this summer, more than three years after it was shut down in response to Pyongyang's provocations, a Seoul-based expert said Monday.
Hong Hyun-ik, a senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute, a non-profit security think tank, raised cautious hope for restarting the Kaesong industrial complex in the North Korean border town, ahead of the second nuclear talk of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Feb. 27-28 in Vietnam.
"It is premature to be optimistic about the resumption of the Kaesong complex due to U.N. sanctions on North Korea, which can be resolved only after Pyongyang takes concrete denuclearization steps," Hong said during the seminar held on the third anniversary of the factory park's shutdown.
"If North Korea shows commitment (to denuclearization) and U.S. President Donald Trump has the political will, I think the Kaesong complex could restart this summer," Hong said.
The North Korea watcher said it is important to persuade U.S. officials that the industrial park can provide critical economic incentives for the Pyongyang regime to change, shedding its present image as a source of money for North Korea's weapons programs.
"If we give economic incentives via the Kaesong complex, it would help stop (North Korea) from developing nuclear weapons," Hong said.
A series of diplomatic moves have raised fresh hope that Washington could offer some relief to Pyongyang, which could kickstart inter-Korean projects, such as the Kaesong industrial complex and Mount Kumgang tour.
During his New Year's Day speech, Kim Jong-un said he is willing to resume major inter-Korean projects without any preconditions.
"If the U.S. and North Korea each takes half a step back, it would lead to the opening of the industrial park," Hong said.
Pyongyang wants sanctions relief as corresponding measures for the steps it has taken since their first summit in Singapore last year, such as dismantling a nuclear and missile test site. Washington has demanded more concrete denuclearization steps before making such any concession, with senior policymakers stressing that stringent enforcement of sanctions spurred Pyongyang to come forward for talks.
During the seminar held at the National Assembly, South Korean businesspeople called on the government to allow them to visit Kaesong to check the equipment they left behind and come up with support measures for the financial damage suffered over the past three years.
Opened in 2004, the Kaesong complex was hailed as a successful cross-border economic cooperation project as it combined South Korea's capital with North Korea's cheap labor. But it ceased operations in February 2016, after the Seoul government announced its shutdown in retaliation for Pyongyang's nuclear and missile provocations.
More than 120 South Korean firms had operated plants in the Kaesong complex, though they left there on short notice and have not been granted government permission to visit the complex.
Source: Yonhap News Agency