Lee Seon-kwon, head of the North Korean Committee for the Peaceful Reunification, put pressure on South Korean entrepreneurs to promise investment in North Korea during the inter-Korean summit held in Pyongyang in September.
Lee said at a luncheon in Pyongyang, “How can you sit back and enjoy the Naengmyeon (cold noodles)?” The entrepreneurs, who accompanied South Korean President Moon Jae-in for his visit to Pyongyang, were sitting at the same table with Lee for the luncheon. The global businessmen were there including Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, SK Chairman Chey Tae-won, LG Chairman Koo Kwang-mo, Korea Employers Federation Chairman Sohn kyung-shik, and Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chairman Park Yong-man.
Surprisingly, the owners of the global enterprises continued to eat their noodles at the luncheon in spite of such rude remarks. Needless to say, they might have felt like retorting. Still, they could not do so. This is not because they were afraid of Lee. Rather, the happening mirrors the situation the political power is holding sway over economy in South Korea.
The South Korean President concentrating too much on inter-Korean relations took the renowned entrepreneurs with him to Pyongyang at the request of not themselves but the North. It is highly likely that they did not want to go there with UN and U.S. sanctions ongoing with regard to the North Korea nuclear issue and that they had no other choice not to get on the wrong side of the political power.
Under the circumstances, an official at the Presidential Office said Seoul can help Washington by claiming that the sanctions on Pyongyang be eased. Two days after the remark, however, the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Treasury Department additionally included one person, two companies and two ships in Singapore in its sanctions for violation of the UN and U.S. sanctions. Subsequently, the South Korean President visited the European countries including Germany and France and tried to ask their heads of state to join his efforts to ease the sanctions, only to be flatly refused.
Seoul and Washington are failing to move in the same direction in dealing with the nuclear issue, and this situation is leading to a mounting conflict between the two. “Although the U.S. government is smiling on the face of it, many in the government are actually raising concerns over its counterpart’s policy and some are even angry,” a U.S. think tank recently said to South Korean reporters. Likewise, Mitchell B. Reiss, former director of policy planning at the Department of State, said on October 23 via Voice of America (VOA) that the U.S. and South Korea now have starkly contrasting opinions when it comes to North Korea issues.
By means of the Moon Jae-in administration, the North is putting pressure so that the sanctions can be eased and South Korean companies invest in itself. However, the investment can be examined and carried out only after its nuclear threats are gone and the Washington-Pyongyang relations go back to normal. These conditions are not prepared at all now, and this is why the South Korean President’s stance is very worrisome. He would be well advised to keep pace with Washington and stop coercing large enterprises. The worse the local economy becomes, the shorter the duration of inter-Korean peace show will become.