Fourteen South Korean businessmen departed for North Korea's border town of Kaesong on Wednesday morning, as concerns grew over unilateral demands from North Korea.
Recently the North has demanded to raise the minimum wage for its workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex from US$70.35 to $74, and also to change other regulations regarding the overall management of the complex, starting in March. The North demanded these changes without negotiation or consultation beforehand. The proposition is coming to a head soon, because on the upcoming payday, about 120 South Korean firms must pay March wages for 53,000 North Korean employees. The companies are in a touchy situation, being squeezed by Northern pressure and the South Korean government's firm refusal, while the Unification Ministry warns of legal and administrative punishments against any company complying with Pyongyang's demand.
The South's businessmen said that they will explain their stance on the wage problem to the North, hoping for the Kaesong Industrial Complex to be free of political tension. The representative of the group, Chung Ki-sup, head of the council of South Korean companies, also said that North Korea’s demand for a wage hike and regulation revisions could be resolved through dialogue.
Chung also blamed anti-North Korea leaflet launches by South Korean activists for stirring up tensions and halting talks between the two Koreas. Chung Ki-sup asked for the upcoming leaflet campaign scheduled for March 26th to be called off, regarding it as the biggest obstacle blocking efforts to resume inter-Korean dialogue. A North Korean defector Park Sang-hak plans to organize an event to fly half a million leaflets, including thousands of DVDs and USBs containing copies of the movie "The Interview” toward the North via helium balloons.
Unification Ministry officials acknowledged that the leaflet campaign may jeopardize safety and security in the border areas. However, they said, "It's not appropriate to link the leaflet-scattering issue with our response to North Korea's unilateral and unjust demand for a wage hike." Ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol urged the North to accept the South's offer to talk on pending issues, including land rental fees, which North Korea is supposed to impose starting this year.