SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA: North Korean workers didn’t show up for work at a jointly run factory complex with South Korea today, a day after Pyongyang suspended operations at the last remaining major economic link between rivals locked in an increasingly hostile relationship.
Some of the more than 400 South Korean managers still at the Kaesong industrial complex just north of the Demilitarized Zone said they planned to stay and watch over their equipment until food ran out.
Pyongyang said Monday it would pull out its 53,000 workers at the complex, which began production in 2004 and is the biggest employer in the North’s third-biggest city. By closing the factory, Pyongyang is showing it is willing to hurt its own shaky economy in order to display its anger with South Korea and the United States.
Pyongyang has unleashed a torrent of threats at Seoul and Washington following U.N. sanctions punishing the North for its third nuclear test, on Feb. 12, and joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea that allies call routine but that Pyongyang sees as invasion preparation. In recent days there have also been worries in Seoul of an even larger provocation from Pyongyang, including another possible nuclear test or rocket launch.
Some North Koreans who worked an overnight shift at Kaesong were still there this morning, but South Koreans said those scheduled for day shifts didn’t show. A North Korean woman at Kaesong said in a telephone call that she planned to return home now that her night shift was done.
A South Korean worker who remained at Kaesong said that workers normally show up around 8 or 8:30 a.m. “They did not show up,” said the worker, who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The worker said he planned to stay at the factory until food runs out. He said he and four other colleagues had been living on instant noodles.
“We are running out of food. We will stay here until we run out of ramen,” he said.
The point of North Korea’s threats and possible future provocations, analysts say, isn’t a full-scale war, which North Korea would certainly lose. It’s seen instead as an effort to force new, Pyongyang-friendly policies in South Korea and Washington and to boost domestic loyalty for Kim Jong Un, the country’s young, still relatively untested new leader.
Monday’s statement about Kaesong came from Kim Yang Gon, secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea. It did not say what would happen to the 475 South Korean managers still at the Kaesong industrial complex.
Kim’s statement said North Korea will now consider whether to close the complex permanently. “How the situation will develop in the days ahead will entirely depend on the attitude” of South Korean authorities, it said.
Yoo Ho-yeol, a North Korea expert at Korea University in South Korea, said the North probably will close the park.
Yoo said he expects the South Korean managers will be deported, Pyongyang will convert the park for military use, and the fates of the North Korean workers and their families will not be considered. “It’s a wrong decision but they won’t change it because it’s not their top priority,” he said.