Seoul to explore options on Gaeseong

Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun (centre) and executives walk out of a graveyard after paying their respects at the tomb of her late husband and the former group chairman Chung Mong-hun in Hanam, Gyeonggi Province, Friday.

KOREA - Seoul is expected to seek concrete steps toward a "grave" decision over the stalled industrial park in Gaeseong as early as next week as Pyongyang remains silent over its last offer for working-level talks.

Making the offer for dialogue last Sunday, the South warned of a grave decision, which observers said could amount to a complete shutdown of the complex, the last remaining symbol of cross-border cooperation.

"(We) can't just wait for a response from the North (over the offer for talks) as the allied military exercise is approaching. The moment of a decision is coming," a senior Seoul official told media. "A variety of options will be reviewed next week."

Seoul believes time is running out as Pyongyang will not talk to Seoul during the two-week Korea-US Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise, which is to begin on Aug. 19. The North criticizes the drills as a "rehearsal for invasion" of the North.

Still taking a cautious position, Seoul's Unification Ministry said no decision was made yet over any "deadline" for Pyongyang's response to its dialogue offer.

"We are not yet at that stage to talk about (any deadline) and no decision has been made with regard to that," the ministry's deputy spokesperson Park Su-jin told reporters.

Possible steps toward the "grave" decision may include completely cutting the electricity it has offered to the complex, observers said.

After pulling South Korean workers out of the complex in May, Seoul has reduced its provision of electricity to 3,000 kilowatts from 100,000 kilowatts ― an amount sent when the factory park was fully operational.

As electricity is critical in maintaining production equipment there, cutting it off is close to a complete shutdown.

A substation in Munsan, Gyeonggi Province, sends electricity to the 100,000-kilowatt Pyeonghwa substation in Gaeseong built by South Korea, which then redistributes the power to the 123 South Korean firms there.

Seoul can also begin providing compensation for damages to the South Korean firms forced to withdraw as Pyongyang stopped sending its 53,000 workers to the labour-intensive factories. And then, it could demand Pyongyang make amends.

Meanwhile, Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun will visit Mount Geumgangsan in the North on Saturday with her group executives to mark the 10th anniversary of the death of her husband and former group chairman Chung Mong-hun.

Hyundai Asan, the group's North Korea business wing, had led inter-Korean tourism projects such as Geumgangsan tours. Chung committed suicide in 2003 amid an investigation into the former Kim Dae-jung government's alleged offer of massive money to the North before the 2001 inter-Korean summit.