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North Korea treated Samsung de-facto chief like ‘vice president’: lawmaker

North Korean leaders treated Samsung Electronics vice-chairman Lee Jae-yong as South Korea’s “vice president” when they welcomed President Moon Jae-in’s delegation in Pyongyang, a lawmaker said.

Rep. Park Jie-won of the Party for Democracy and Peace, who accompanied Moon on a three-day summit trip to the North, said the communist leader’s eagerness for economic development was “enormous.”

“The fact that Kim Jong-un gave such a warm welcome to the South Korean (business leaders) has raised hopes for the North Korean people,” Park said on the JTBC talk show “Sseol Jeon,” which aired Thursday night.

“By showing the image of South Korean conglomerates’ chiefs expressing interest in North Korea’s economic development, (Kim) may have been aiming for a propaganda effect on his people,” he added. 

Samsung Electronics vice-chairman Lee Jae-yong shakes hands with North Korean Deputy Prime Minister Ri Yong-nam. Yonhap
Samsung Electronics vice-chairman Lee Jae-yong shakes hands with North Korean Deputy Prime Minister Ri Yong-nam. Yonhap

The lawmaker recounted an episode where the Samsung heir was introduced to Kim Jong-un by his right hand-man, Kim Yong-chol. According to Park, the North Korean leader showed the “utmost respect and affection” when he shook hands with Lee.

Lee was part of a special delegation visiting North Korea along with Moon and some Cabinet members. Seventeen business leaders from a variety of industries joined the trip.

While Samsung does not currently operate in North Korea, speculation is rampant that South Korea’s biggest conglomerate may have begun exploring potential business opportunities there.

Samsung’s de facto holding company, Samsung C&T, launched a South-North economic cooperation task force in April. The team is charged with gathering information about the North Korean market and researching financial regulations that would affect investments in the North.

While Lee did not respond to reporters’ questions about the purpose of his first-ever trip to North Korea, the heir to Samsung Group expressed hopes that the visit will enhance trust with the reclusive state.

“I am visiting Pyongyang for the first time, and there was a barrier between Pyongyang and me in my mind,” Lee said during his meeting with North Korean Deputy Prime Minister Ri Yong-nam on Sept. 18. Ri is in charge of the country’s economic policy.

“But after I arrived here, saw the city and met you, the barrier broke down,” Lee said. He added that this was particularly noticeable when he saw a building in Pyongyang with a placard that stressed the importance of science and talent, a sentiment that is also part of Samsung’s management philosophy.

By Yeo Jun-suk (