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Seoul seeks to allow NK-run business in the South

North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, US President Donald Trump (left to right) at a three-way gathering in the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom in June 2019 (KCNA-Yonhap)
North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, US President Donald Trump (left to right) at a three-way gathering in the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom in June 2019 (KCNA-Yonhap)

South Korea is seeking to revise a law on inter-Korean affairs to allow North Korean-run businesses in its territory, in spite of international sanctions currently placed on the North, the Unification Ministry said Monday.

The revised South-North Exchange and Cooperation Act would also allow local municipalities to run businesses with the North without an intermediary while giving greater freedom to South Koreans to interact with their Northern peers.

“We’re aware that the new change wouldn’t be actionable right away,” said an official from the Unification Ministry, in a clear reference to UN sanctions that prohibit a wide range of Pyongyang’s economic activities.

But, the official said the ministry would push ahead with the change, highlighting the “two-way street in economic activity” needed for both Koreas. The existing law deals with only the South engaging in business operations in the North, and not vice versa.

The planned revision would lay a legal framework for stronger inter-Korean exchange to come, the ministry official explained.

The latest effort from Seoul to ease hurdles for stronger inter-Korean exchange is seen as a follow-up on an initiative South Korean President Moon Jae-in put forward last month, when he championed advancing inter-Korean relations instead of waiting for a thaw in US-North Korea ties, which have been locked in prolonged disagreement over sanctions relief.

Experts said Seoul should not derail international efforts at sanctions enforcement on Pyongyang or allow the sanctions to serve as an excuse for the continued status quo.

“Seoul should keep pushing on doors … to see where Pyongyang is willing to engage in reciprocal cooperation,” Leif-Eric Easley, an international studies professor at Seoul-based Ewha Womans University, told The Korea Herald.

Another North Korean specialist, Harry J. Kazianis of the Washington-based Center for the National Interest, said, “At least for the moment, there is no harm in trying to get Pyongyang to engage in such efforts, as such small steps could be a way to build toward larger initiatives in the future.”

Some experts, however, warned that the Korean government should be careful not to risk weakening its long-standing alliance with the US, as it had earlier reiterated that inter-Korean exchange should accompany the North’s denuclearization.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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