Significance of 17 chaebol chairmen and business leaders visiting Pyongyang

Posted on : 2018-09-18 18:04 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Will be able to assess NK’s economy on the ground and flesh out areas for cooperation
South Korean chaebol chairmen and business figures walk to board the plane to Pyongyang Sep. 18.
South Korean chaebol chairmen and business figures walk to board the plane to Pyongyang Sep. 18.

The 17 chaebol chairmen and business figures that will accompany the South Korean delegation to the Pyongyang summit will have the opportunity to personally assess, “out in the field” in North Korea, the possibilities and limits of inter-Korean economic cooperation.

Many speculate that in areas of social overhead capital, such as joint railway, road, and electricity projects, a fairly detailed cooperation plan might even emerge. The businessmen said that “although it will be difficult to prepare business plans immediately due to realistic limitations such as the international community’s sanctions on North Korea, this visit could be a meaningful opportunity to listen to the thoughts of North Korea’s top leaders and economic ministers on economic and industrial cooperation is a meaningful opportunity.”

Samsung, LG and SK, whose group chairmen are personally going on the visit, showed a cautious reaction, saying that “there isn’t much that we’ve prepared in advance.” Regarding joint Korean economic and industrial projects, an LG Group executive said, “this is something that will have to be contemplated after we visit North Korea and speak to their representatives.”

A Hyundai Motor Group executive said, “Shouldn’t listening to what kind of requests North Korea makes be prioritized?” He added, that “the meaning behind business figures joining this visit is to show that if the North Korea nuclear issue is resolved, there will be cooperation in economic spheres.”

POSCO is the most active in inter-Korean economic and industrial cooperation. After establishing a North Korea project task force last August, they have reportedly made significant progress in drawing up project plans in areas such as natural resource and infrastructure development and steelworks reconstruction.

On top of potentially importing North Korea’s underground resources, POSCO is expecting an important role in the revival of the peninsula’s steel industry by participating in the development of infrastructure, such as railways and roads. Previously, Chairman Choi Jeong-woo had said, “Short-term focus will be placed on the steel business and development of natural resources that can used for the group’s projects, while in the long-term we will play an active role in North Korean infrastructure development and the rehabilitation of the steel industry.”

Hyundai Group, which claims priority rights to North Korea projects, showed a sense of expectancy. Hyundai Group said that, “If given the opportunity on this visit, Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun is planning to request resumption of the Mount Kumgang tourism project,” adding that “the schedule in Pyongyang will mostly be group events such as meetings and tours, so it’s uncertain whether there will be opportunities for individual companies to have their own conversations.”

Representing startups and the ICT field rather than conglomerates, SoCar CEO Lee Jae-woong said in a phone interview with the Hankyoreh, “Although it’s unclear who we can meet and what kind of conversations we can have, I want to listen and learn about many things, such as what [the North Korean side] thinks about the future, and share these insights when I return,” adding that “I once visited the United States with former president Roh Moo-hyun, but I feel much more excited and expectant this time around.”

Korea Development Bank Chairman Lee Dong-geol, the only financial institution representative included in the South Korean delegation, said that “Korea Development Bank is carefully laying the basic groundwork for economic and industrial cooperation. Because there is a large initial risk, it will succeed only if there is a global effort that includes international financial institutions in drawing up a larger vision.”

By the Hankyoreh business desk

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