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South Korea presidential candidates differ in their views of Kaesong

Operations at the factory park were suspended exactly a year ago.

By
Elizabeth Shim
A South Korean soldier stands guard at the Dorasan Station in the Civilian Control area near the demilitarized zone in Paju, South Korea. Presidential candidates are debating the merits of resuming operations at a jointly operated factory park in North Korea that was shut down in 2016. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI
A South Korean soldier stands guard at the Dorasan Station in the Civilian Control area near the demilitarized zone in Paju, South Korea. Presidential candidates are debating the merits of resuming operations at a jointly operated factory park in North Korea that was shut down in 2016. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 7 (UPI) -- As South Korea's presidential race heats up in February, North Korea policy in Seoul is at the forefront of election concerns.

Leading candidates in the race are being evaluated by their approach to inter-Korea economic cooperation on the anniversary of the shutdown of Kaesong, a jointly operated factory park in North Korea.

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Progressive candidates, like front-runner Moon Jae-in, say the Kaesong Industrial Complex should be reopened and economic exchange be strengthened to ease tensions, local news service ET News reported Tuesday.

Lee Jae-myung, another opposition party candidate who called for the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye, said he would call for the resumption of business at Kaesong.

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Ahn Hee-jung, a provincial governor from the progressive side, said Kaesong could be reopened on the basis of North Korea cooperation.

Conservative politicians who have announced their bid for the presidency, varied slightly in their views of Kaesong, according to ET News.

Gov. Nam Kyung-pil of South Korea's most populous Gyeonggi Province and a member of the right-wing Bareun Party, said he is not against normalizing Kaesong but any changes should be made within the sanctions framework of the international community.

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In February 2016, South Korea decided to suspend operations at Kaesong in order to prevent funds from being used for the development of North Korea's nuclear weapons.

South Korean lawmaker Yoo Seong-min, considered a national security hardliner, said any resumption of Kaesong operations "cannot take place right away."

"It is difficult to resume unless there is a major change in inter-Korea relations," Yoo said.

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More than 300 South Korean companies, including 123 firms with factory operations, have been affected by the shutdown.

Seoul has said the firms were sufficiently compensated for their losses, but business owners say they have not been able to return to normal operations.

Moon is the leading candidate in South Korean polls. He has gained more points after former U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon quit the race last Wednesday.

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