About the Author
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
The head of South Korea’s Hyundai Group will visit North Korea this week to attend a memorial ceremony for her late husband and the company’s former chairman Chung Mong-hun.
The Ministry of Unification (MOU) on Wednesday said it had approved Hyun Jeong-eun and her 15-member delegation’s visit to Mount Kumgang on Friday – her first such trip in four years.
The event will commemorate the 15th anniversary of the death of Chung, which falls on August 4.
“We gave the permission on a humanitarian basis as this is an annual memorial event,” Lee Eugene, deputy spokesperson at the unification ministry, said at a regular briefing.
Monday saw the corporation announce that North Korea’s Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee (KAPPC) had agreed to allow their visit to Mount Kumgang.
The Hyundai Group previously held annual memorial ceremonies commemorating the death of Chung Mong-hun, the company’s late chairman who worked extensively on inter-Korean projects during the years of the “Sunshine” policy.
He took his own life in 2003, however, amid allegations that he had secretly transferred millions of dollars to the North to facilitate the 2000 inter-Korean summit.
2016 saw the group refrain from asking for permission to visit the DPRK amid increasingly strained inter-Korean relations, while last year the North rejected their request.
Chairwoman Hyun previously attended Mount Kumgang memorial ceremonies in 2009, 2013, and 2014.
Her last visit to the North took place in December 2014, when she met with late secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Kim Yang Gon and received a letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Questions about whether this week’s visit was linked to efforts to the resume South Korean tours to the area were rebuffed by a Hyundai Asan official in a telephone interview with NK News.
“This is not true, and the chairperson’s visit to North Korea is confined to the attendance at the memorial service marking the 15th anniversary of Chung Mong-hun’s death,” the official said, while admitting that an impromptu meeting with North Korean officials was a possibility.
“We will be able to know if we can meet them when arriving at the venue.”
Hyundai Asan previously invested, developed, and operated inter-Korean projects at the mountain, though cooperation was cut short in 2008 following the killing of a South Korean tourist by a North Korean soldier.
The North has since then appeared to begin operating accommodations originally built by Hyundai Asan, while calling for foreign investment in a new cruise ship, hotel construction, and for a street of new restaurants in the area.
Friday’s visit follows an editorial in DPRK ruling party organ the Rodong Sinmun calling for the resumption of tourism at Mount Kumgang and economic cooperation at the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC), describing their suspension as a “heartbreaking reality of North-South relations.”
May saw the corporation announce a plan to establish a task force team, led by Chairwoman Hyun, to examine possibilities for inter-Korean economic cooperation.
Hyundai Asan previously confirmed to NK News plans to convene a weekly meeting to discuss opportunities in North Korea, with the re-operation of original projects as a priority.
Meanwhile, South Korean Vice Minister of Unification Chun Hae-sung is scheduled to visit the Mount Kumgang resort on Wednesday afternoon.
The unification ministry on Tuesday said the purpose of the visit would be to check progress on the renovation of facilities in preparation for the reunions of separated families, set to be held between August 20 and 26.
The vice minister will also give a pep talk to some 50 workers at the site, where the Korean peninsula’s ongoing record-breaking heatwave is reportedly being felt particularly keenly.
Chun’s visit has “nothing to do with the resumption of Mount Kumgang tourism,” the ministry deputy spokesperson stressed on Wednesday when asked about Tuesday’s Rodong editorial.
“The government is well aware of the current sanctions on North Korea. We will closely discuss and cooperate with relevant countries with regard to the issue,” she said.
With regard to the re-opening of the KIC, Lee reiterated the ministry’s stance that work at the industrial park will be resumed “if possible” and within the context of the international sanctions framework.
Edited by Oliver Hotham