South Korea has decided to shut down operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea after Pyongyang defied United Nations' sanctions and tested a nuclear device last month, the Unification Ministry said.
North Korea on Jan. 6 said it test-fired a miniaturised version of a hydrogen bomb, a claim the international community is sceptical about. It launched a long-range rocket on Feb. 7, attracting criticism from Japan, South Korea and the United States.
"We have decided to stop all operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex so that our investment in the complex would not be used by the North to fund its nuclear and missile development," the Agence France Presse quoted Seoul's unification minister Hong Yong-Pyo as saying.
"The operation of the complex should not be used for North Korea's development of weapons of mass destruction at a time when the international community is pushing for tougher sanctions against the North," Yonhap News Agency quoted a ministry official as saying on condition of anonymity.
Seoul will recall South Koreans working at Kaesong in the next few days and provide support to the South Korean firms there to ensure they suffer minimum losses. Commenting on whether the South will consider reopening the industrial park, the official said it would depend on how Pyongyang responds to the concerns of the international community.
"Whether the park can be reopened will entirely hinge on North Korea. The North should first dispel the international community's concerns about its nuclear and missile developments, and provide a favourable atmosphere for our firms to normally operate factories," the official said.
The industrial complex, having 124 South Korean companies, was opened in 2004 to help cash-strapped North Korea. The South's firms at the complex provide $100 million total income to about 53,000 North's workers every year. Seoul's move is reported to affect Pyongyang, which is already under several sanctions.
"The Kaesong Industrial Complex is the sole remaining channel of inter-Korea cooperation. Shutting it down will likely lead to more confrontation between two Koreas, which will further intensify anxiety among South Koreans over national defence, not to mention the economic toll on our companies," AFP quoted Cheong Seong-Chang of South Korea's Sejong Institute think-tank as saying.
"I hope that our government will calm down and take more pragmatic and realistic policies towards the North," Cheong said.
Japan tightens sanctions on N Korea
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held a meeting of his National Security Council and decided to tighten sanctions on North Korea for its rocket launch on Sunday, Kyodo News quoted Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga as saying.
North Korea may have claimed on Feb. 7 to have launched a satellite, but Tokyo, Seoul and Washington see it as a covert test of inter-continental ballistic missile technology North Korea is banned from using under UN sanctions.