A factory complex that is North Korea’s last major economic link with the South was a virtual ghost town today after Pyongyang suspended its operations and recalled all 53,000 of its workers, cutting off jobs and a source of hard currency in its war of words and provocations against Seoul and Washington.
Only a few hundred South Korean managers remain at the Kaesong industrial complex, which has been run with cheap North Korean labour and South Korean capital and knowhow for the past decade. The managers have not been forced to leave the facility just north of the Demilitarised Zone.
One manager today said that he and his colleagues are subsisting on ramen but planned to stay and watch over the company’s equipment as long as their food lasted.
New South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who has sought to re-engage North Korea with dialogue and aid, expressed exasperation with what she called the “endless vicious cycle” of answering hostile behaviour with compromise, only to get more hostility.
Pyongyang yesterday said it would recall all North Korean workers from the complex and would decide later whether to shut it down for good.
The work stoppage at the biggest employer in the North’s third-biggest city shows that Pyongyang is willing to hurt its own shaky economy in order to display its anger with South Korea and the United States. North Korea has a per capita GDP of $1,800 per year, far below that of its neighbours in Northeast Asia, according to the US State Department.
Pyongyang has unleashed a torrent of threats at Seoul and Washington following UN sanctions punishing the North for its third nuclear test, on February 12, and joint military exercises between the US and South Korea that allies call routine but that Pyongyang sees as invasion preparation.
US and South Korean defence officials have said they’ve seen nothing to indicate that Pyongyang is preparing for a major military action in which it would be heavily outgunned.
But they have raised their defence postures, and so has Japan, which deployed PAC-3 missile interceptors in key locations around Tokyo as a precaution today against possible North Korean ballistic missile tests.
Tensions have risen on the peninsula since North Korea’s third nuclear test on February 12, which led to tightened sanctions against the isolated regime.
The communist country has issued several threats, including a nuclear strike against the United States, and declared the 1953 ceasefire with the South invalid.
Last week, Pyongyang said it was restarting its nuclear facility at Yongbyon, which would allow it to resume production of weapons—grade nuclear material.