September 19, 2018 11:19
South Korean tycoons who accompanied President Moon Jae-in to Pyongyang met North Korea's top economic official Ri Yong-nam on Tuesday for talks that were largely seen as window-dressing for the summit.
They made it clear to Ri that inter-Korean relations must improve before any economic projects can be pursued. But Ri said, "I am gaining faith in the possibility of active economic cooperation between the North and South. The most important is the inter-Korean railway project."
Five other North Korean officials took part in the meeting with 17 business executives from South Korea including the heads of its biggest conglomerates and state-run companies.
"I hope that we can get to know more about each other and bolster trust with this opportunity," Samsung chief Lee Jae-yong told reporters.
Also present was Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun, whose small conglomerate pioneered business with the North. "I hope that inter-Korean relations make progress and U.S.-North Korean talks go well so that tours to Mt. Kumgang can resume," she said, evidently keen to revive subsidiary Hyundai Asan's package tours to the scenic resort.
KORAIL president Oh Young-sik expressed his hopes for reconnecting the cross-border railways, but Ri acknowledged that the two sides "will need to meet several times a year from now on."
Ri began his career as a secretary in charge of economic affairs at the North Korean Embassy in Singapore in 1994 and became minister in charge of attracting foreign investments and economic cooperation in 2014 and is currently in charge of bringing investments into the North.
After talking with the South Koreans, Ri said, "We will be able to make major progress in economic cooperation if we join hands and pool our wisdom and strength together."
The press were then shooed out so that detailed talks could focus on reconnecting cross-border railway and highway links, the modernization of North Korea's transportation infrastructure and cooperation in forestation projects.
The projects were in truth of little interest to tech giants like Samsung and LG, whose chiefs were heavily leaned on to trudge along, though it may have given them a better glimpse of future opportunities in case North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons and international sanctions are lifted.
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