South Korea has warned of an unspecified “grave measure” if North Korea rejects talks on Kaesong, a jointly run factory park shuttered for nearly a month.
In a television briefing, Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk refused to describe what Seoul would do if Pyongyang does not respond by Friday to a demand for formal working-level talks on the industrial complex in the town of Kaesong.
But Seoul’s talk of a “grave measure” may be an attempt to signal it will pull out its remaining workers from the complex.
“There is no change on our stance to support the stable operation and improvement” of Kaesong, Kim said on Thursday.
“But we cannot let this situation continue as it is,” he added. “If North Korea rejects our proposal… we have no choice but to take significant measures.”
Kim did not elaborate on what steps might be taken, but the ultimatum suggested South Korea was considering a permanent withdrawal from the zone, which normally employs 53,000 workers at 123 South Korean companies.
The talks proposed by Seoul would be between the respective heads of the North and South committees that oversee Kaesong operations.
The proposal came a day after Seoul announced pan-governmental action to help firms with factories in Kaesong deal with liquidity problems caused by lost production and the cancellation of orders.
Established in 2004 and lying 10 kilometres (six miles) inside North Korea, Kaesong is a crucial hard currency source for the impoverished North, through taxes and revenues, and from its cut of the workers’ wages.
Turnover in 2012 was reported at $469.5 million, with accumulated turnover since 2004 standing at $1.98 billion.
Angered by the South’s defence minister remarks on the existence of a “military” contingency plan to protect South Korean staff in Kaesong, the North pulled out its entire workforce on April 9 and suspended operations.
Since then it has denied repeated requests to send food and other supplies to South Koreans who opted to remain in the zone to maintain their non-running production lines.