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S. Korean Business Leaders Meet with N. Korea's Deputy Prime Minister in Pyongyang
Hoping for Restart of inter-Korean Projects
S. Korean Business Leaders Meet with N. Korea's Deputy Prime Minister in Pyongyang
  • By Jung Suk-yee
  • September 19, 2018, 15:02
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Ri Yong-nam (left), deputy prime minister of North Korea, greets Lee Jae-yong (right), vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, before their meeting at People's Culture Palace in Pyongyang on September 18.

“I hope to learn more and build trust through this opportunity,” said Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics in a meeting with Ri Yong-nam, deputy prime minister of North Korea, in Pyongyang on September 18.

Lee is visiting Pyongyang as a member of the special entourage for the third inter-Korean summit.

"This time, key South Korean businesspeople have come to North Korea," said Kim Hyun-cheol, an economic adviser to the South Korean President Moon Jae-in, during the meeting with Ri. "I think it will be great to let them introduce themselves if time permits."

"I am visiting Pyongyang for the first time,” said the Samsung vice chairman when his turn arrived. “There was a barrier between Pyongyang and me in my mind. But after I came here, saw the city and met you, the barrier broke down."

"I happened to see a new building across Pyongyang Station with a placard saying, ‘Focus on Science and Human Resources.’ Samsung's basic management philosophy is ‘Focus on Technology and Human Resources,’” Lee said. "I have never seen such a placard in Korean in other countries. So I felt that we are the same Korean people."

"I have found that Mr. Lee Jae-yong is a very famous person in many aspects," the North Korean deputy prime minister said. "I hope you become famous for peace, prosperity and unification."

In attendance at the rare meeting were leaders of the four leading South Korean business groups -- Lee of Samsung Electronics, Chey Tae-won, chairman of the SK Group, Koo Kwang-mo, chairman of the LG Group, and Kim Yong-hwan, vice chairman of Hyundai Motor. Heads of major economic organizations also attended the meeting, including Park Yong-man, chairman of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Sohn Kyung-sik, chairman of the Korean Employers Federation, and Park Sung-taek, chairman of the Korea Federation of Small and Medium Business. North Korean deputy minister Ri is known as a de-facto economic leader in charge of North Korea’s international economic cooperation.

"I visited Pyongyang in 2007. So I came here in 11 years. It seems that there has been a lot of progress during the period," SK Group chairman Chey Tae-won said. "Taller buildings have been built and trees have grown significantly. It was very nice to see them.”

"LG is a company that engages in the electronics, chemicals and communication businesses among others. Thank you for giving me this good opportunity," said Koo Kwang-mo when introducing himself. "Koo Kwang-mo’s father, who was the chairman of LG Group, visited North Korea twice. Koo Kwang-mo is the new chairman of the LG Group,” added economic advisor Kim Hyun-chul who introduced the South Korean business leaders.

South Korean business leaders, who accompanied President Moon Jae-in to Pyongyang, meet with North Korean deputy prime minister Ri Yong-nam at People's Culture Palace in Pyongyang on September 18.

Companies that pursued projects in North Korea expressed their hopes that their projects would be resumed after inter-Korean relations improve.

"I always felt sad when inter-Korean relations deteriorated,” said Hyun Jung-eun, chairwoman of the Hyundai Group. “I hope that the inter-Korean summit will be successful and the North Korea-U.S. summit, too, so that Hyundai Group can start its North Korean projects, including the Mt. Geumgang tour program."

"I have always hoped that chairwoman Hyun can enjoy success in her group’s North Korean projects," the North Korean deputy prime minister said in response.

"The three major inter-Korean economic cooperation projects are the Mt. Geumgang tourism, the Gaesong Industrial Complex, the South-North Korean railway and road connection project," said Shin Han-yong, chairman of the Gaesong Industrial Complex Enterprise Association. "It is very meaningful that the three projects have reached a new turning point since their suspension.”

"I hope that this summit will be an opportunity for everyone here to be able to restart the three major projects," Shin continued. "I eagerly hope that inter-Korean economic cooperation projects will develop and expand considerably through the summit."

"The Gaeseong Industrial Complex has been closed down. I hope that the industrial complex will reopen soon," said Park Sung-taek, chairman of the Korea Federation of Small and Medium Business.

"This is my first visit to Pyongyang. I came here by airplane even though I must have come by train because I am the president of KORAIL," said Oh Yong-shik, president of KORAIL, making other participants laugh. “I hope that railways will contribute to the peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula as South and North Korea implement projects according to the agreement hammered out during the inter-Korean summit talks held on April 27."

The North Korean deputy prime minister said, "Railroad cooperation is one of the most important projects between the two Koreas. You will have to come here several times a year."

"I would like to see tourism of the whole Korea, not just South or North Korea, prosper,” said Ahn Young-bae, president of the Korea Tourism Organization. “We will open up an era of whole Korean Peninsula tourism if inter-Korean exchanges expand in the future.”

"We asked the South Korean side to bring you to Pyongyang during a negotiation for the third summit," said Hwang Ho-young, a high-ranking official of the North’s Mountain Geumgang Special International Tourism Zone, when he met the Samsung vice chairman on September 18, the first day of South Korean President Moon’s visit to North Korea.

Hwang’s remark ran counter to the Cheong Wa Dae's claim that the North did not request South Korean business leaders’ visit to North Korea.

Hwang’s remark was not included in the interview manuscripts of the joint press corps covering Cheong Wa Dae but was included in a footage taken by South Korean reporters. This video was released to reporters around 8 p.m. on the day.

"I have seen the news report that there was a request from the North Korean side for South Korean business leaders’ visit to North Korea, but it is not true at all," said Yoon Young-chan, chief press secretary for the South Korean president, in a news briefing. “Their visit to North Korea was decided entirely by the South Korean government."

Only 30 minutes after Yoon’s briefing, a North Korean official said the opposite while meeting South Korean business leaders. Then, five hours later, the video in question was released. "I am not sure that Hwang Ho-young was in a position to make such a comment," Yoon said in response to the news and video. "This time, I will make it clear. The North Korean side did not request the South to bring South Korea business leaders to Pyongyang."

On September 19, Cheong Wa Dae reconfirmed that it was not the North Korean side but the South Korean government that asked vice chairman Lee Jae-yong to accompany President Moon to Pyongyang.