North Korea Invites Its Favorite South Korean Hostages Back to Work

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In what may be the latest sign that North Korea is willing to stand down — or at least shut up — the nation has invited South Korean managers back into the countries' jointly-run Kaesong factory, the last major economic link between the two Koreas. But considering the hostage situation in April involving the same South Korean managers, don't expect them to come rushing in all at once. "In a statement carried by the North's official media on Tuesday, the government agency in charge of relations with Seoul said Pyongyang is ready to talk about reopening the Kaesong complex if the business owners visit," reports The New York Times.  

The possibility of North Korea opening up the factory is symbolic — in the same way that shutting down the eight-year-old complex and sending some 50,000 South Korean workers back home in April was interpreted as a sign that diplomacy between the two countries was waning and that war (or whatever the North was calling it that day) could be imminent. The re-opening of the massive industrial park could signal that North Korea is ready for peaceful talks, or at least open economic arms. And the invitation comes on the heels of North Korea's Choe Ryong-hae, a diplomat close to Kim Jong-un, telling Chinese President Xi Jinping that the country "is willing to take positive actions" toward "peace and stability" in the Korean peninsula. 

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So, yeah, North Korea's neighborhood foot-stomping might be over for the moment, but there remains doubt: Could this all be a plot to gain political bargaining chips in the form of South Korean business managers? "Attention-seeking toddler seeks to have toy placed back in pram," Quartz's Senior Asia Correspondent Adam Pasick tweeted this morning, suggesting that North Korea is out of options and is either seeking a reward — or something that will garner it yet more attention.

And Pasick's suggestion would be right. North Korea in recent weeks has scaled back its nuclear war propaganda toward the South — at least somewhat. Their leverage over the region doesn't appear to be what it was a couple of months ago. But taking a few South Korean managers hostage could change all that. Almost one month ago, on April 29, when North Korea shut down the factory, it detained seven South Korean managers and demanded that outstanding bills were paid. The managers eventually came home on May 3, after trucks loaded with money paid off their ransom "wages." Should be an interesting next few weeks at work.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.