Did Hyundai Chairwoman Meet Kim Jong-il?

      August 14, 2009 07:35

      Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun, who has been in North Korea apparently waiting to meet leader Kim Jong-il, has been out of touch since around 9 a.m. Thursday. She then told associates she was returning to the South on Friday after extending her stay for one more day.

      "If she had no particular schedule, Hyun would have told us that as she did on Wednesday," a source speculated. "So it's likely that she met Kim somewhere other than Pyongyang."

      A senior government official said Hyun "must have met" Kim because she was scheduled to return on Wednesday but extended her stay twice, and because the North's invitation only mentioned the start of her visit, "from Monday," but did not say when it would end.

      Yu Seong-jin, a staffer of Hyundai Asan who had been held incommunicado in North Korea for 136 days, was handed over to South Korea in the afternoon, supporting speculation that Hyun has already met Kim.

      If so, they probably met in Wonsan, since the official KCNA news agency that afternoon said Kim made an on-the-spot guidance tour of the Songdowon Youth Outdoor Theater in Wonsan. The agency Wednesday reported a similar inspection-cum-pep talk in Hamhung, South Hamgyong Province.

      Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun (third from left), on a visit to North Korea for talks on tour programs to the North, poses with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (center) on Nov. 2, 2007. /North Korean Central News Agency-Yonhap

      An intelligence officer said Kim Jong-il stayed at a villa in Rakwon-gun near Hamhung until Thursday morning. That suggests Kim traveled from Hamhung to Wonsan on Thursday morning. But given the North Korean media's habit of carrying reports of his on-the-spot guidance tours a day or two late, perhaps he moved on earlier.

      Back in 2000, Kim invited both the late Hyundai Group honorary chairman Chung Ju-yung and then unification minister Park Jae-kyu, who were staying in Pyongyang, to Wonsan. Wonsan has a guesthouse and an airport. It takes two-and-a-half hours by car and an hour by air from Pyongyang, while Hamhung is four to six hours by car.

      If Hyun had met Kim, they would have discussed a variety of pending inter-Korean issues, including tour programs to Mt. Kumgang and Kaesong, and the Kaesong Industrial Complex, which are operated by Hyundai Group. Hyun has a number of issues to discuss, including resumption of Asan-operated package tours to Kaesong and Mt. Kumgang.

      But another government official said Kim has been traveling extensively recently and there could be a problem with Hyun meeting him. If Hyun returns without meeting Kim, speculated Prof. Lee Jo-won of Chung-Ang University, "it's a message that the North has nothing except Yu's release to give to South Korea to improve inter-Korean relations."

      Since 1998, Kim has met South Korean officials on 13 occasions apart from the two summits, mostly briefly or for lunch.

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