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Growing Tensions Between the North and South

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/23/world/asia/23korea.html?ref=asiaSouth Korea’s relations with the North are at one of their lowest points in years as tensions between the two continue to grow after an unsuccessful meeting session to discuss the future of their joint industrial complex in Kaesong.

While discussions on when and where this meeting would take place took over 11 hours, the actual meeting ended within 22 minutes and with both sides leaving the table without their needs being addressed.

On one hand, the South was aiming for concessions and even a possible release of a South Korean worker who was detained for alleged slander against the North Korean government and charges of enticing a North Korean worker to defect and more importantly restarting the project to help build economic ties to the North and bring about progress in the denuclearization of the region.

On the other, the North was requesting adjusted pay rates for its workers, “readjusting wages to a realistic level.” The almost 90 factories made kitchen utensils, shoes and electronic parts, employing approximately 39,000 North Korean workers at an average monthly wage of $70 to $75 per worker.

To make matters worse, on April 22, the North has made claims that the South has tampered with a border marker, one of 1,292 borderline markers, several dozen yards to the north. The North Korean government has threatened swift military action, even citing that the capital of South Korea, Seoul, was only 50 km away, unless preparations were made to correct this discrepancy.

Such hardline reactions bring to light the fragile relationship which President Lee Myung Bak has with the North. Since President Lee Myung Bak’s installation into office last year, his pledge to deny free aid until the North cooperates on its nuclear disarmament, has angered North Korean officials and Pyongyang has continued to steadily raise tensions along the border, something that was blatantly obvious at the recent 22 minute meeting.

However, President Lee, following in the same line proclaimed he would join the so-called Proliferation Security Initiative shortly after the UN called for tightened sanctions on North Korea after its recent rocket launch. Interestingly enough, President Lee has not made an official announcement as the North warned that it would consider such a move a “declaration of war.”


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