North Korea Blocks Workers From South at the Border

Photo Credit: Jung Yeon-Je/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images[1]

 By: Garrett Redfield

The New York Times Reports:

“North Korea blocked South Koreans on Wednesday from crossing the heavily armed border to a jointly operated [Gaeseong Industrail Complex], raising doubt about the future of the last remaining major symbol of inter-Korean cooperation.

 The move came four days after North Korea threatened to shut down the industrial park, in the North Korean town of Kaesong, out of anger over United Nations sanctions and joint military drills that the United States and South Korea are conducting on the Korean Peninsula.

More than 480 South Koreans — many with their trucks — who showed up at a border crossing Wednesday morning were denied permission to cross and had to turn around, said the Unification Ministry of South Korea, which is in charge of relations with the North. But North Korea promised to allow 861 South Koreans currently staying in Kaesong to return home if they wished, the ministry said. But with no replacements arriving, only 33 decided to return home on Wednesday.”


There are a some important items that need to be stressed:

1)      “Mr. Bang, who is ‘an official at Jaeyoung Solutec Company… said in a telephone interview that there was nothing unusual in Kaesong and along the border crossing when he visited the park on Tuesday.’”

2)      “It was not the first time that North Korea had disrupted the park’s operation. It blocked cross-border traffic three times in 2009, once for three days, out of anger over joint military drills by South Korean and American troops. That blockade was lifted when the military exercises ended. The current American-South Korean military drills are to continue until the end of April.”

3)      The Gaeseong Industrial Complex is not closed. South Koreans and North Koreans continue to work at the industrial park.

4)      South Koreans working at the industrial park are not hostages and have the option to go back to South Korea, but “only 33 decided to return home on Wednesday.”

Tensions are certainly increasing, but the point of no return has not been crossed. The fact that the Obama Administration (according to public knowledge) has not reached out to North Korea to resume bilateral negotiations is of great concern. How far is the U.S. willing to push the envelope? How far is North Korea willing to push the envelope? Right now both countries are flexing their muscles like two children on the playground seeing who will blink first and that’s not good diplomacy. Winning through intimidation is a set-up for failure for any diplomatic efforts.


Garrett Redfield is a Master of International Affairs Candidate at the School of International Affairs at The Pennsylvania State University. As an adopted Korean American, he has a strong interest in Korean Peninsula affairs, and focuses on Korean Reunification. Garrett has lived in Korea for an extensive amount of time, mainly as a former ESL instructor. He is proficient in Korean.

Title Credit:

[1] Ibid.

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