Business talks put inter-Korean biz cooperation on horizon

By Shin Ji-hye

North’s top economic official says railway cooperation of utmost important for two Koreas

  • Published : Sept 18, 2018 - 21:49
  • Updated : Sept 18, 2018 - 21:49

Business leaders of the South and North shared their views on the economic cooperation of the two Koreas on the first day of President Moon Jae-in’s visit to Pyongyang, although no detailed cooperation has been announced.

From about 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, 17 South Korean business leaders, including the chiefs of Samsung, SK and LG, met with Ri Ryong-nam, the North’s Deputy Prime Minister.

During the 1 1/2-hour meeting, the business leaders briefly introduced themselves, as some expressed hopes of closer economic cooperation for the two Koreas in the future. 

North Korea's top economic official Ri Ryong-nam shakes hands with South Korean business leaders. (Joint Press Corps)

“What was the most impressive when I arrived at the airport is that there were many slogans of ‘peace and prosperity’ as well as ‘independent reunification,’” said presidential economic adviser Kim Hyun-chul.

“I felt that the South and the North can now achieve peace and prosperity together, unlike in the past,” he added.

Ri agreed, saying, “Look at the title of the Panmunjom Declaration that our dear leader Kim Jong-un and President Moon Jae-in declared. It is the declaration of peace, prosperity and unification of the Korean Peninsula.”

The North’s top economic official particularly showed an interest when Korea Railroad Corp. CEO Oh Young-sik expressed his hope to connect railways of the two Koreas with restoration of the relations of the South and North and the settlement of peace on the Korean Peninsula.

In response, Ri said, “Currently, cooperation on the railway is the most important for the North and South. (You) would have to come (to the North) every year in the future,” evoking bursts of laughter from others in attendance.

Also, when Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun expressed her hope of the resumption of South Korean tourism at Kumgangsan soon, Ri agreed and expressed similar hopes.

Despite the smooth atmosphere, there were no detailed plans of cooperation struck during the meeting.

Yoon Young-chan, senior secretary to the president for public communications, said at 3 p.m., “There will be no detailed memorandum of understanding ... there will be no detailed outcome this time.”

For the South’s part, it must be cautious on talks about economic cooperation, as North Korea still faces sanctions from the United Nations. The UN Security Council has restricted overseas activity by North Korea to block cash flow to the country.

“We can make (economic cooperation) when a new condition is set ... and we hope the relationship between the US and the North is relaxed,” Yoon said when asked about whether it was the right timing to talk about such cooperation amid growing issues on sanctions on the North related to Russia.

Economic cooperation the South Korean government refers to is President Moon’s new economy road map on the development and connection of economic zones on the east and west coasts of the Korean Peninsula, as well as the Demilitarized Zone, with a combination of the South’s technology and capital and the North’s labor.

Despite no dramatic outcome for the economic cooperation of the two Koreas, experts say the business delegation’s presence has still been meaningful, as it can serve as a tool to push the North to denuclearize and help Korean business moguls better understand the current economic situation in the North.

“The inclusion of the business delegation may push the North to denuclearize by envisioning the future of the North economy through economic cooperation,” said Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

Um chi-sung, an executive at the Federation of Korean Industries, said, “For Korean business leaders, the visit to the North is a good opportunity to understand what the North’s top economic officials have in mind. It will help them to develop plans for economic cooperation after denuclearization.”

By Shin Ji-hye (