North Korea plays nice - for now

North Korea plays nice - for now
Head of the South Korean working-level delegation Kim Ki-woong (R) and his North Korean counterpart Park Chol-su exchange written agreements at the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee in Kaesong August 14, 2013.

SOUTH KOREA - Just in time for the 68th Liberation Day celebrations, North and South shook hands last Wednesday, agreeing to end a 133-day suspension of the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex.

The North's promise of unfettered business operations at Kaesong was an indirect acknowledgement of its responsibility for the park's initial closure, according to sources.

The North also agreed to discuss South Korean President Park Geun Hye's proposal to resume family reunions for those separated during the 1950-53 Korean War, providing further hints of a thaw in inter-Korean relations after months of sky-high military tensions triggered by the North's nuclear test in April.

But, hopeful reports aside, whether these landmark compromises mean the coming of a North Korea that is more trustworthy and open to economic development remains unclear.

Hints that Pyongyang's ruling elites were vying for more butter and fewer guns surfaced sporadically in the months prior to the Kaesong deal.

On Saturday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited - for the first time since May - a ski resort being built in the Masik mountain pass, located near the highway linking Pyongyang and Wonsan.

North Korean officials claimed the resort could raise up to US$62.5 million (S$80 million) annually by attracting more foreign tourists and holding international competitions.

Reports of a behind-the-scenes meeting between North Korean officials and United States academics, including former US State Department official Joel Wit, in Geneva earlier this month; the wide use of foreign currencies such as US dollars and Chinese yuan within North Korea; and the release of an indigenous smartphone called the "Arirang" reinforced the notion that the North was hungry for foreign investment and eager to open up.

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