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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
Hyundai Group chairwoman and CEO Hyun Jeong-eun on Monday said the resumption of inter-Korean tourism at the Mount Kumgang resort by the end of the year would be “difficult.”
In comments following a two-day event at the resort to mark the 20th anniversary of the beginning of inter-Korean tourism, Hyun appeared to backtrack on a previous claim that her company and North Korean authorities expected to restart joint work in the area by the end of 2018.
“We are in a difficult situation to resume tourism within the year at this point, but I believe it will take place before long,” she said at a news conference held at the Customs, Immigration, and Quarantine (CIQ) office in Goseong County, Gangwon Province, in comments carried by multiple South Korean outlets.
When asked about the timing of when the resort at Mount Kumgang will be reopened, Hyun said it is “difficult to express stance as a private company.”
Speaking at the news conference, Hyun said this weekend’s festivities, co-sponsored by Hyundai and DPRK’s Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee (KAPPC), had seen “no concrete discussion” over inter-Korean economic cooperation projects.
She did, however, say that “the North Korean side also hopes for swift resumption” of cooperation at Mt. Kumgang.
The Hyundai CEO — returning on Monday from her third trip to the DPRK this year — suggested the company would have to wait for North Korea to receive relief from international sanctions before any cooperation could take place.
“We have been in preparation so that inter-Korean economic cooperation projects can be resumed immediately, as soon as the U.S. lifts regulations,” she said.
Around 30 executive and staff from Hyundai and around 80 and 100 persons respectively from the North and the South took part in the commemorative event, the first of its kind in three years.
September’s Pyongyang Joint Declaration saw the two Koreas agree, among other things, to “normalize” operations at the now-shuttered Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) and the Mount Kumgang resort when conditions allowed it.
During an inter-Korean event the following month, chairman of the DPRK’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC) Ri Son Gwon urged South Korean counterparts to push ahead economic cooperation.
The Hyundai CEO’s comments – a marked departure from the optimism of the summer – come as South Korean hopes for economic cooperation with the North appear increasingly dashed by U.S. insistence that sanctions relief will only come when Pyongyang takes substantial steps to denuclearize.
South Korean chief nuclear envoy Lee Do-hoon, who serves as Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs, departed for Washington DC on Monday for talks with U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun.
The two are set to discuss the establishment and management of a planned U.S.- ROK working group, initially announced amid what appeared to be growing daylight between the allies over the North Korean issue.
North Korean outlet the Uriminzokkiri earlier this month denounced the new organization as part of an American attempt to “ruin” inter-Korean cooperation projects.
Many of these plans have seen delays in recent months. An joint on-site survey of the Gyeongui and Donghae railway lines — originally scheduled to begin from late October and early November — has seen its deadline pushed back to closer to the end of the year.
ROK Minister of Unification Cho Myoung-gyon in October admitted to “differences” between Seoul and Washington over plans for an on-site survey on inter-Korean road and rail cooperation.
Friday saw Cho meet U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington, in a meeting in which the two reportedly discussed ways to ensure that inter-Korean cooperation keeps pace with progress in U.S.-DPRK nuclear negotiations.
The unification ministry earlier in the month admitted that local media reports that the U.S. Treasury Department asked for a conference call to be briefed on inter-Korean economic projects by officials from South Korea’s chaebol – a move widely seen as a pre-emptive warning against violating sanctions – were accurate.
During a regular briefing, MOU deputy spokesperson Lee Eugene acknowledged that the unification ministry had requested the corporations share details of the calls.
Speaking at a parliamentary audit, Governor of South Korea’s Financial Supervisory Service (FSS) Yoon Suk-heun in October also said the U.S. Treasury Department had directly contacted the headquarters of ROK banks which have branches in the U.S.
Citing a report from the FSS, South Korean lawmaker Kim Seon-dong that same month revealed the Treasury Department had expressed “great concerns” over preparations for inter-Korean economic cooperation.
Edited by Oliver Hotham