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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
Seoul should not miss the “opportunity” presented by the future opening-up of the North Korean economy, ROK President Moon Jae-in said Thursday.
Speaking at a New Year press conference, the South Korean President said past operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) and tourism at Mount Kumgang had been “beneficial to both South and North Korea.”
The “backward linkage effect” of previous inter-Korean economic cooperation on the South Korean economy should be considered, Moon said, urging South Korean companies to seize that opportunity when it arises.
“My view is that international capital, including from China will flow competitively [into North Korea] if international sanctions are lifted, North Korea opens its economy, and infrastructure is constructed,” Moon told a two-hour news conference touching on everything from North Korea to gender equality issues.
“I think it is greatly important that South Korea not miss an opportunity to enter [the North Korean market] or take the initiative.”
Inter-Korean cooperation, the President said, could serve as a “groundbreaking growth engine” for the South Korean economy.
“We are the ones who have the chance,” he said. “Although I do not know when we can use it… I believe it is like a blessing.”
Seoul will conduct preliminary research to allow for the implementation of inter-Korean economic cooperation projects “at a fast speed” when sanctions are eased, Moon added.
The South Korean President in a speech last year said economic cooperation could bring in KRW 170 trillion (USD$150 billion) over the next 30 years, citing research by the state-run Korea Institute for International Economic Policy (KIEP).
To this end, Moon during Thursday’s press conference hinted Seoul would seek further exemptions from international sanctions to move ahead with inter-Korean economic projects.
In response to Kim Jong Un’s calls for further inter-Korean economic cooperation in his New Year speech last week, he said his administration welcomes Pyongyang’s intention to resume work at the KIC and tourism on Mount Kumgang “without conditions or compensation.”
“As such, the prerequisites for the two Koreas resuming operation of the Complex and Kumgangsan tourism have essentially been met already,” Moon said in his televised speech.
To this end, he said, the South Korean government will “cooperate with the international community, including the United States, to resolve the remaining issues such as international sanctions as soon as possible.”
Reiterating Seoul’s view that “peace can drive economic growth,” Moon said plans for inter-Korean rail and road connection would help provide a “new breakthrough” for the national economy.
Following an over-month-long-delay, the two Koreas held a groundbreaking ceremony for rail and road connection and modernization in December.
Progress towards broader connection of infrastructure remains stalled, however – a delay that North Korean media has claimed is linked to U.S. meddling in inter-Korean affairs.
Speaking at Thursday’s press conference, Moon also said he believes plans for a visit by Kim Jong Un to the South Korean capital will be realized soon.
September’s Pyongyang Joint Declaration saw the DPRK leader promise to visit Seoul “at an early date,” though the event ultimately did not take place within the year.
December saw Kim send a personal letter to Moon expressing regret that he had been unable to visit the South Korean capital, while promising to meet “frequently” in 2019.
Moon told Thursday’s press briefing that he had replied to Kim’s letter but declined to share the details, citing custom.
And while he accepted the DPRK leader’s first-ever visit to Seoul would be “greatly important for inter-Korean relations,” Moon also said it is necessary to consider North Korea’s internal situation.
Pyongyang has “a lot” of considerations before the leader’s trip can take place, he admitted – likely a reference to concerns about security or public protests.
An inter-Korean summit will also be necessary if a second Trump-Kim meeting takes place, he said, stressing that he and Kim would need to discuss that summit’s outcomes and their impact inter-Korean relations.
“It is linked to the second summit between North Korea and the U.S. – my view is that chairman Kim Jong Un’s return visit will be pushed forward smoothly after that summit takes place,” Moon told reporters.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Joint Inter-Korean Summit Press Corps