SEOUL, April 24 (UPI) -- South Korea Thursday offered to hold talks with North Korea on the inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex, where operations remain suspended.
The sprawling complex in the North Korean border town of Kaesong, just across the Demilitarized Zone, currently is the only economic link between the two Koreas, and had provided employment to about 53,000 North Koreans before operations were suspended this month amid rising tension between the two countries.
"We make an official offer to North Korea to hold a working-level meeting to discuss ways of normalizing the suspended Kaesong Industrial Complex and providing humanitarian aid to South Korean workers there," South Korea's Unification Ministry said in a statement, Yonhap News reported.
The complex, seen as providing much economic benefit to the impoverished Communist country, is operated by 123 South Korean factories and plants using North Korean labor, and products from there are then brought back to the South. Before operations were suspended, the North had banned the entry of South Korean personnel and goods into the facility.
In its statement, the Unification Ministry said its government would have no choice but to take serious measures if the North failed to respond to the dialogue offer. The statement gave no details.
Yonhap said 176 South Korean nationals are staying at the complex. It said Wednesday the Seoul government announced a plan to help companies with factories in Kaesong deal with liquidity problems caused by lost production and the cancellation of orders.
North Korea, as reported by its Workers' Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun, accused the South this week of "intentionally fueling tensions" leading to the idling of the Kaesong complex.
The newspaper said Seoul cannot deflect blame for the deteriorating conditions at the complex.
"By intentionally fueling tensions, (the South) destroyed the peaceful atmosphere needed to sustain the complex," it said.
It said South Korean media reports that the complex is a major source of economic benefit to the North are serious provocations that insult the dignity of the country.
Although the provocative rhetoric and threatening statements from the North in recent weeks have eased somewhat, South Korea, along with Japan and the United States, remained on alert for any imminent long-range missile test by the Communist regime.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met Wednesday with visiting South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, China's official Xinhua News Agency reported. The report said Li reaffirmed China's commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Li was quoted as saying China is committed to denuclearization, safeguarding peace and stability on the peninsula and opposing any actions in the opposite direction.
China, which is the main ally of North Korea, had condemned the North's Feb. 12 nuclear test -- its third since 2006, which led to toughened sanctions by the U.N. Security Council.
Yonhap reported that during Yun's visit, the two countries agreed to set up a 24-hour hotline. The report said the announcement on the hotline came as the North's top general renewed calls for more production of "miniaturized" nuclear weapons and missiles.