Members of South Korea's Unification Ministry (L) shaking hands with their North Korean counterparts during talks at the joint Kaesong industrial park in 2014. Photo: AFP / South Korean Unification Ministry

The North Korean factories at a now closed joint factory park with South Korea probably weren’t using their proceeds to pay for Pyongyang’s nuke program, and Seoul’s decision to shut the operation at Kaesong last year was a serious misstep, according to a North Korean expert interviewed by UPI.

Min Kyung-tae, a visiting research fellow at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University, told UPI on Friday that South Korea lost important leverage in its dealings with the North when it abruptly exited the project, located near the demilitarized zone separating the two countries, in February 2016.

“If you actually look at the channels of use for South Korean payments to Kaesong, a lot of the funds were being used to operate the factory park, to cover actual costs,” Min said, noting that several analysts have tracked how the funds were utilized.

Ex-South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s administration alleged at the time that the money North Korea earned from its joint manufacturing operations was being used to fund Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

“It’s difficult to say South Korea payments for Kaesong alone changed the direction of North Korea’s munitions industry,” Min went on to tell UPI. “Even at present, when the Kaesong complex has been suspended along with North-South cooperation, North Korea’s weapons development has not stopped.”

“It is hard to build a direct connection between the two,” Min added.

Min is a South Korean-based North Korean studies scholar who has proposed a “Seoul-Pyongyang megacity” as a vision for the peninsula.

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