NK running hydroelectric power plant near Gaeseong
Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said Friday that North Korea is suspected of running a hydroelectric power plant near the now-suspended Gaeseong Industrial Complex (GIC), amid suspicion that Pyongyang is operating some of the factories there without Seoul’s consent.
Cho, however, said there were no clear signs of operations at the inter-Korean industrial park which has been closed since February 2016 when South Korea, in response to the North’s nuclear tests, pulled out all 123 companies there and cut off the supply of power and water.
“It’s my understanding that North Korea was running a small hydroelectric power plant near the GIC. We learned about this very recently,” Cho told lawmakers during a National Assembly audit of the unification ministry.
He acknowledged that the government detected suspicious activities at the GIC around March and April, such as vehicles entering and leaving the park.
“However, there were no particular activities proving that North Korea was running the factories,” he added.
After the South’s shutdown of the park, North Korea froze all assets of the companies operating there in retaliation. But there have been reports from U.S. media recently that the Kim Jong-un regime has been secretly running 19 clothing factories there. Operating the factories should require consent from South Korea.
Pyongyang also indirectly acknowledged the partial operation by stating on its propaganda website Uriminzokkiri: “What we do at an industrial complex, where our nation’s sovereignty is exercised, is nobody else’s business.”
Opposition lawmakers accused the Moon Jae-in administration of failing to find out in advance whether the repressive regime was operating the GIC.
Cho promised to work closely with relevant countries when Rep. Lee Ju-young of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) raised concerns over North Korea exporting clothing manufactured at the GIC in violation of U.N. Security Council (UNSC) resolutions.
“We’re trying to find out about Pyongyang’s export channels for those products,” he said. He added that restoring inter-Korean ties could begin by re-opening the GIC, which was seen as a symbol of reconciliatory efforts.
However, Cho implied that re-opening it now would be in violation of the UNSC resolutions. “It only can be resumed step by step when the North Korean nuclear crisis enters a phase toward a solution.”
Meanwhile, the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) and opposition parties collided over the Moon government’s decision in September to offer humanitarian assistance worth $8 million to North Korea through U.N. programs.
Rep. Shim Jae-kwon of the DPK argued that the international community has never ceased humanitarian aid to impoverished Pyongyang regardless of the UNSC sanctions.
Choi Kyung-hwan of the LKP disagreed, saying, “The government came from nowhere in its decision for humanitarian aid as the world has been talking about sanctions and pressure on North Korea.”
Regarding the appropriate timing in resuming cross-border dialogue, the DPK’s Lee Seok-hyun called on efforts to “re-open all possible dialogue channels,” while the LKP’s Won Yoo-chul called it “impossible” because of North Korea’s nuclear provocations.
Regarding sending a special envoy to North Korea to resolve the nuclear and missile issue, the minister said, “The government maintains the view that it can dispatch a special envoy if necessary.”
Cho said he is concerned about the suspension of hot lines and other communication channels with North Korea amid heightened tension on the Korean Peninsula.