By Casey Lartigue, Jr.
The South Korean government is on the verge of snatching defeat from the ''jaws of victory" as it agreed to reopen the joint Gaeseong Industrial Complex.
Although I support a ''sunshine approach" in dealing with North Korea, I do believe the South Korean government made the right decision to withdraw from the Gaeseong complex in April when the North Koreans started acting like damned fools, yet again. The South Korean government pledged to financially support the South Korean companies suffering losses (an estimated $1 billion).
I oppose providing subsidies for businesses, but in this case, it is the best option to make a clean break. Offer payoffs to the South Korean companies doing business in the complex, then the South Korean government should wipe its hands of the complex. That's right, walk ― if not run ― away from the Gaeseong complex.
If South Korean businesses want to do business with the North Korean regime, they should not be blocked. It is inevitable that the North Koreans will use the complex as part of its ongoing game of chicken with the South and that the South Korean companies will eventually have their property seized or shut down.
The problem is that the taxpayers lose their shirts right along with those South Korean companies when the South Korean government stays involved.
I have watched South Korea long enough to know that the government here can't break its habit of being involved in everything, even having Cabinet meetings discussing whether or not men should be defined as hostesses or the appropriate lengths of skirts of ladies.
So the South Korean government will work with the North Korean regime to reopen the complex and maintain the guarantees for South Korean companies. Then the next time the North Koreans shut down the complex, the price tag will be $10 billion or some other ridiculous amount.
To be clear, I support a sunshine policy allowing businesses, individuals and charitable organizations to deal with the North Korean regime. But shouldn't it be obvious by now that the two Koreas won't come to a meaningful agreement?
The New York Times recently took a stroll through history, writing about squabbles between the two Koreas at their peace talks: ''During border talks decades ago, the sides took the competition over protocol and appearances to the extreme, with North Korean military officers secretly adding inches to the legs of their chairs so they would look taller than their counterparts across the table from South Korea and the United States. In those cold-war-era meetings, the sides usually exchanged invectives and retorts.
''But they also sometimes persisted in silence ― for over 11 hours in one session in 1969 ― challenging the other side to speak first. In the best-known contest of pride on the divided peninsula, North and South Korea once engaged in a race over which country could raise its national flag higher over the heavily fortified border. That battle was eventually settled with the North beating the South; today, the North's flagpole stands over 500 feet tall, beating the rival South's by roughly 200 feet."
Of course, there are many more examples not mentioned, such as high level meetings being delayed or halted because of disputes over seating arrangements.
I mention that because Gaeseong is just another bargaining tool between the two Korean governments, a chess game being played according to North Korea's rules.
Stephen Linton of the Eugene Bell Foundation pointed out at a Cato Institute event in 2010 that countries tend to adopt North Korea's tactics. ''South Korea tries to approach North Korea the way North Korea approaches South Korea, by funneling everything through government ministries, by strangling in a sense or denying its private sector full participation," Linton said. The result is too much government, not enough private sector activity in dealing with North Korea.
The South Korean government can, in this case, walk away from the industrial complex, cut the guarantees, and allow businesses to deal directly with the North Koreans.
|Photo Casey Lartigue took during Prof. Lankov's presentation.|
|At his office, getting his critical but helpful advice about my projects.|
|I connected him with 10 Magazine for a speech in July 2013, then went to the subway to direct him to the location.|
|I arranged for Prof. Lankov and some refugees to be in a PBS special. He was on the phone, so they asked me to sit in his seat for a few minutes so they could adjust the lighting or whatever...|
|Introducing Prof. Lankov to Yeonmi Park and Stephanie Choi (one of Yeonmi's 19 teachers in the Teach North Korean Refugees project that I am co-director of.|
September 2011, Center for Free Enterprise. Prof. Lankov agreed to come over to my office to give a speech although he had no idea who I was.