South Korean businesses were forced to leave behind their assets in Kaesong, North Korea, in 2016. File Photo by Yonhap
SEOUL, March 6 (UPI) -- South Korean business executives who were forced to leave assets behind at a jointly operated factory park in North Korea have applied for government permission to visit Kaesong.
Members of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex Emergency Response Committee said they must travel to Kaesong to check assets they left behind at plants, South Korean news service News 1 reported Wednesday.
Seoul's unification ministry is raising their expectations. In an official statement, the ministry did not rule out a group visit to the North, despite economic sanctions.
"Is it not possible for the task of asset inspection and maintenance to take place within the framework of current sanctions?" the ministry asked Wednesday.
Baik Tae-hyun, a ministry spokesman, told reporters at a regular press briefing the administration supports the "protection of corporate property rights." He also said the government will look into consulting with relevant agencies, the United States, as well as with Pyongyang, so Kaesong executives could gain access to the abandoned factories.
South Korean businesses were forced to leave behind assets at the industrial park in North Korea in 2016.
The group has requested approval for a visit seven times, but so far all applications have been turned down.
Baik said Wednesday the government is in a position to provide conditions for the visit to take place, despite a record of rejecting applications from the executives. The response also comes after President Moon Jae-in said in his speech marking the 100th anniversary of the nation's March First Movement he seeks to discuss Kaesong's reopening with the United States.
A total of 184 South Koreans are looking to visit Kaesong, including lawmakers Chung Dong-young, a former unification minister, and Shim Sang-jung, of the progressive Justice Party.
Hopes are rising among South Korean businesses as North Korea could be reassessing its negotiation strategy with the United States.
In an article for South Korean publication Sisa Journal on Wednesday, Kwon Sang-jip of Dongguk University said Kim Jong Un underestimated President Donald Trump in Hanoi.
Kim may have been expecting eased sanctions on the condition of giving up Yongbyon, the North's nuclear facility, but Trump may have taken Kim by surprise when the United States raised the issue of a second uranium enrichment facility, Kwon said.