The unification ministry on Wednesday brushed aside calls to reopen a shuttered inter-Korean industrial complex in North Korea for anti-coronavirus mask production, citing challenges such as the need for workers from the two sides to stay in close contact. A growing number of people are asking for operations to resume at the factory park in the North's border city of Kaesong, as the South has been struggling to address mask shortages in the wake of the massive outbreak of COVID-19 cases. "The government is maintaining its position that the Kaesong complex must reopen. However, there are realistic challenges we need to review in order to restart the complex," Yoh Sang-key, the unification ministry's spokesperson, said in a press briefing. "First, it is a burden to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex now at a time when the two Koreas are taking preventive measures, as workers from the North and South will have to meet and stay in close contact with one another," he said. Yoh also cited other possible problems, including the time necessary to check factory facilities before they restart work and the issue of bringing filters or fabrics into the complex at a time when they are in short supply in South Korea. South Korea has stepped up efforts to expand the local production of protective masks from the current 10 million to 14 million units daily. It also placed an export ban on masks.
Launched in 2004, the Kaesong Industrial Complex was born on the back of a peace mood created after the first-ever inter-Korean summit between South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2000. It was hailed as a symbol of inter-Korean economic cooperation and a successful cross-border project that combined South Korean capital and technology with cheap labor from North Korea. In 2016, Seoul closed the Kaesong Industrial Complex in retaliation for the North's fourth nuclear test. Efforts to resume operations there have made little progress amid a protracted stalemate in denuclearization talks. (Yonhap)