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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
The ROK presidential office on Tuesday insisted Seoul had independently made the decision to include business leaders in its special delegation to this week’s inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang.
A total of 17 business people are accompanying South Korean President Moon Jae-in during his three-day visit to the North Korean capital this week.
Among them are Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-Yong, Hyundai Group CEO Hyun Jeong-eun, LG Group Chairman Koo Kwang-mo, and SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won.
Senior Secretary to the President for Public Communication Yoon Young-chan on Tuesday said Seoul had decided to bring the business people.
“I’ve come across media reports that North Korea made the request on the visit to North Korean by business persons, but that is not true at all,” Yoon said during a regular press briefing held at the summit press center in Seoul.
The composition of the delegation, he continued, was “entirely decided” by the South Korean government.
“We judged that the participation of business persons is necessary for the future of inter-Korean relations,” he added.
This is not the first time that Seoul has included business leaders in its delegations to inter-Korean talks: so-called “chaebol” (conglomerate) bosses were also present at summits in 2000 and 2007.
The business people are set to hold meetings with North Korea’s vice premier Ri Ryong Nam on Tuesday afternoon.
One expert said Ri’s trade background and experience working abroad made him “one to watch.”
“It’s safe to assume that he will push for the reopening of Kaesong and for deeper economic cooperation with the South in the form of additional investment beyond Kaesong and Kumgang – perhaps into Wonsan,” said Peter Ward, a researcher and NK Pro writer focused on the North Korean economy.
The presence of Samsung VP Lee Jae-Yong, Ward added, “implies that the Blue House is serious about a real deepening of inter-Korean economic cooperation.”
Also part of the South Korean delegation are the heads of the state-owned Korea Development Bank (KDB) and Korail corporations.
“[KDB] may serve as a future financing vehicle for major infrastructure projects in the North, at least, that is probably the hope of the Blue House,” said Ward.
“Korail is likely to be one of the first to start such a project, if it ever happens.”
But Blue House spokesperson Yoon on Tuesday ruled out the possibility that both sides would come to any specific agreements this week.
Yoon earlier in the day said the two Koreas will review the potential for inter-Korean economic projects with the understanding that there is a “certain limitation on cooperation because of sanctions.”
Featured image: Pyeongyang Press Corps