Despite Hyundai Group’s declining profit, chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun appears determined to push forward with the group’s long-term plans for capitalizing on inter-Korean economic cooperation projects ― namely tours to Mount Geumgangsan that were suspended under the former administration when a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier.
Her latest visit to North Korea on Monday reflected such intentions, according to industry sources.
At 9:40 a.m., the chairwoman arrived at the customs, immigration and quarantine office in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, flanked by dozens of Hyundai executives including Hyundai Asan CEO Cho Kun-shik.
Asked about the purpose of her fourth such visit to North, Hyun said that the main event would be attending the 11th memorial service for the late former group chairman Chung Mong-hun to be held at Mount Geumgangsan.
|Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun talks with a reporter at the CIQ office in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, Monday, before entering the North to attend the 11th memorial service for the late chairman Chung Mong-hun to be held at Mount Geumgangsan. (Yonhap)|
“The delegation will look around facilities that were used for the tour program,” she added, stressing that her itinerary did not include plans to meet with North Korean officials.
Despite her claims, industry watchers believe she may get a glimpse of Pyongyang’s intentions for the suspended tour program during her half-day visit.
The tours to Mount Geumgangsan, led by Hyundai Asan, have been suspended for six years since a South Korean female tourist in her 50s was fatally shot by a North Korean soldier in 2008.
Hyundai Asan, established in 1999 by Hyundai Group founder Chung Ju-yung chiefly to handle inter-Korean economic projects, was hard hit by the sudden hiatus of the cash-generating business, causing its profit to plummet. Hyundai Group also felt the impact of the hardship at Hyundai Asan.
When the group faced a severe liquidity crisis at the end of 2013, Hyun decided to sell the group’s financial arms, including Hyundai Securities, to secure funding to redeem debt. The decision was based on the chairwoman’s determination to hold on to Hyundai Asan, no matter what.
“It was not a surprise to see Hyun hang on to Hyundai Asan despite the firm’s worsening business conditions, given that she came to power in 2003 to fulfill the unrealized dreams of her husband,” said one corporate insider.
Hyun became the group’s chairwoman in 2003 when her husband ― former Hyundai Group chairman and head of the Hyundai Asan board Chung Mong-hun ― jumped to his death from his office in downtown Seoul.
Chung Mong-hun, a son of Chung Ju-yung, apparently committed suicide after he was indicted for his role in transferring money to the North in return for hosting the historic 2000 summit between the two Koreas.
The junior Chung had been known for his enthusiasm for building up Hyundai Asan to contribute to North Korea’s economic development.
Hyundai Asan employees also appear to be longing for a restoration of the firm’s core business. “The group’s top management wants to keep Hyundai Asan ready to resume the tour to Mount Geumgangsan,’’ a Hyundai Asan official said.
‘‘We hope that the upcoming Asian Games in Incheon can pave the way for improving inter-Korean ties to help revive cross-border projects.”
The regional sports event will be held from Sept. 19-Oct. 4 in Incheon. Pyongyang said last month it would dispatch a cheering squad to the event as a conciliatory gesture toward Seoul.
By Seo Jee-yeon (firstname.lastname@example.org)