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ROK-DPRK industrial park talks end without agreement

By ZHOU WA (China Daily)

08:18, July 23, 2013

The fifth round of talks between the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on reopening the industrial park in Kaesong ended on Monday without a major agreement.

Although no substantial progress was made in the working-level talks on Monday, the two sides agreed to hold the next round on Thursday, Seoul-based Yonhap News Agency said.

The ROK and DPRK need more time to build mutual trust before reaching a deal, but they could still reach an agreement in the future because both sides want to reopen the jointly operated industrial park, observers said.

"It is the lack of mutual trust that hinders progress in the negotiations, and it is not so easy for Seoul and Pyongyang to solve this issue in the short term", said Wang Junsheng, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Pyongyang and Seoul both see the outcome of the negotiations as a barometer for their future ties, said Gao Haorong, an expert on DPRK studies with the Xinhua Center for World Affairs Studies — a think tank under Xinhua News Agency.

"Both of them want to seize the initiative in their future relations," Gao said.

Pyongyang and Seoul have held four rounds of talks on this issue, after they agreed in principle to normalize operations of the joint industrial park earlier this month.

ROK President Park Geun-hye has attached great importance to the talks, calling them an "important basis for principles and frameworks for establishing new inter-Korean relations".

Seoul has called on Pyongyang to provide clear assurances that it will not unilaterally shut down the complex.

But the DPRK argued that it was forced to make the decision by hostile ROK actions and intimidation — in particular a series of joint military exercises with its ally the United States.

The ROK also demanded that the industrial zone should be developed into an international factory park by allowing foreign companies to invest there.

Seoul's demands make the DPRK reluctant to come to an agreement, Wang said, because Pyongyang worries that the employees of ROK companies in the park, which is in the DPRK's territory, may seek to overthrow the DPRK government.

Washington's hard-line stance and strict sanctions toward the DPRK also play a role in hindering the talks, although it has expressed support for the communications with the DPRK, Gao said.

"It's better for the two sides to focus on reopening the park right now, and talk about their ties later," Wang said.

The Kaesong industrial zone has been suspended since early April, when Pyongyang pulled out around 53,000 of its workers in protest at the annual joint military drill between Seoul and Washington.

The industrial zone, where 123 ROK companies operate factories, was established in 2004 as a rare symbol of inter-Korean cooperation.

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