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Hyundai Chief Extends N. Korea Visit One Day

Posted August. 13, 2009 10:17,   


Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jung-eun yesterday extended her visit to North Korea by a day, signaling high expectations for a breakthrough in strained inter-Korean ties.

Employees of the group and its subsidiary Hyundai Asan Corp. said her decision to stay longer in the North is a positive signal. Hyun left for the North Monday for talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, and the extension implies that she will hold an audience with Kim.

The state-run (North) Korean Central News Agency said Kim inspected Kim Jong Sok Naval Academy in South Hamkyong Province yesterday, and this is also considered a positive signal. A Hyundai source said this means Kim and Hyun could not hold a meeting Tuesday because Kim was out of town, not because of disagreement.

South Korean companies doing business in the North, including Hyundai Asan, also expressed high expectations over Hyun’s extended trip.

Hyundai Asan President Cho Kun-shik canceled a visit to Kaesong Tuesday after Hyun decided to stay another night in Pyongyang.

The company said Cho will greet the chairwoman at the Customs, Immigration & Quarantine Office in Kaesong today. Hoping to get good news from the North, Hyundai Asan employees worked late Tuesday and last night.

“When senior Hyundai Group executives visited North Korea in the past, they used to cross the border first and wait for notification from the North instead of getting a detailed itinerary before leaving South Korea,” a Hyundai Asan source said.

“We’ll be waiting for news from North Korea since we don’t know when we’ll get news related to Chairwoman Hyun.”

Other employees are reviewing documents on the company’s North Korea business, with one saying, “We’re prepared for the possibility that Chairwoman Hyun will bring the detained worker back to Seoul.”

Cho also asked his staff to prepare for a breakthrough.

The positive prospects are also raising hopes of Hyundai Asan’s resumption of its tours to the North.

A Hyundai Group source said, “If Chairwoman Hyun brings the detained worker home and reaches an agreement to resume Hyundai’s inter-Korean tourism, we’ll normalize the business within a month. Tourist facilities nearby Mount Kumgang have been so well maintained, they can be put to immediate use.”

Suppliers to Hyundai Asan also expressed high expectations over Hyun’s trip, with one saying, “Chairwoman Hyun could bring home presents.”

Ahn Gyo-shik, chairman of the Mount Kumgang Development Council, a group of 29 companies doing business around the scenic area, said, “Chairwoman Hyun’s trip to North Korea will mark a turnaround for inter-Korean economic cooperation. We have high expectations.”

Many experts, however, said time is needed to normalize the tour even if Pyongyang agrees to allow its resumption. Since the tour was suspended after a South Korean tourist was shot to death in the area last year, persuading tourists to visit the area will prove difficult.

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