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[Newsmaker] Will Hyun's visit help break N.K. stalemate?

Expectations were high over the weekend for the resumption of stalled business projects in North Korea following the Hyundai Group chairwoman’s visit to the communist state.

Hyun Jeong-eun visited the North for six hours on Saturday to hold a memorial service for her late husband and former Hyundai chairman Chung Mong-hun, who pioneered North Korean businesses in the early 2000s.

After her brief visit, she received a personal letter from the North’s young leader Kim Jong-un who wished the company and the chief’s family all the best. 
Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun. (Yonhap News)
Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun. (Yonhap News)

The “verbal message” was the first one sent to a South Korean individual by Kim, who took power after the December 2011 death of his father Kim Jong-il.

A delegation of Hyundai Asan, led by the Hyundai chief, visited the late chairman’s monument that was set up at the Geumgangsan resort on the North’s east coast to honor his contribution to the relationship between the two Koreas.

Returning home, Hyun pledged to resume the suspended business projects that the group had carried out, especially the tourism business.

“After the memorial, I looked around tourist facilities such as hotels and found no obvious problems. But in order to resume the business, more detailed repair work seemed to be necessary,” she told reporters.

“After five years of suspension, it is a tough time. But Hyundai would never give up the tourism business.”

She cautioned, however, against a political interpretation of her latest visit.

“We didn’t have business talks. The North Korean representatives didn’t comment on the issue because they visited to deliver the message,” she said. 

Considering her messenger role over the past year, some watchers predicted that a fresh turnaround could result amid heightened tension between the two Koreas.

Chung, Hyun’s late husband, committed suicide after being grilled over a bribery scandal in which he was accussed of playing a role in making payments to North Korea ahead of the inter-Korean summit in 2000.

The widow and homemaker-turned-CEO took the helm in 2003 ― an unexpected move considering the Confucian corporate culture at Hyundai.

By Lee Ji-yoon (jylee@heraldcorp.com)
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