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[Herald Interview] Leaders of Singaporean women’s group visit Pyongyang

SINGAPORE -- Hundreds of foreign guests were in Pyongyang over the weekend to attend celebrations commemorating the 70th anniversary of North Korea’s founding on Sept. 9.

Among them were leaders of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations.

“Eight board members of the SCWO including myself are going,” June Goh, president of the SCWO, told The Korea Herald in an interview Thursday, hours before boarding her flight to Beijing en route to Pyongyang.

“According to the itinerary, there will be a welcome dinner with officials of the (North Korean) Women’s Union, visits to a hospital in Pyongyang, monuments, exhibition halls and viewing of local crafts and art performances.”

June Goh, president of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations
June Goh, president of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations

This is not the first visit to North Korea for the national coordinating body of women’s organizations in Singapore, which has the country’s President Halimah Yacob as its patron.

The previous board members visited Pyongyang three years ago on invitation for the purpose of cultural exchange.

It is the first time Goh, a doctor and director of neuro-anaethesia and neurocritical care at Singapore General Hospital, is meeting with North Koreans.

She said she was not familiar with women’s living conditions or women’s issues in North Korea, but hoped to learn more about the country on her trip.

Expectations for economic and social change in North Korea often draw comparison with what is happening in Myanmar, and with what has taken place in Vietnam and China.

Goh visited Naypyidaw, capital of Myanmar, for a board meeting of the ASEAN Confederation of Women’s Organisations last year, and said she was most impressed with its urban planning -- wide roads and grand buildings housing government offices.

She was also amazed at how much Myanmar had changed since she was there 30 years ago on holiday.

“In Yangon, everywhere you look, there are international companies. A very large Korean presence too, with some of the most beautiful condos constructed and owned by South Koreans,” Goh said.

In regard to how fast North Korea’s economy might be expected to develop once it opens up, she said, “Think about China when they opened up. The speed of development was amazing.”

In November, the SCWO will take over the chairmanship of the ACWO from Myanmar based on a predetermined order.

The two-year term of Singapore’s chairmanship in the regional confederation coincides with the period of time during which Pyongyang hopes to denuclearize and normalize relations with the US.

Singapore played host for the historic summit between Trump and Kim in June and for the ASEAN Regional Forum in August, during which North Korea’s foreign minister sought ASEAN countries’ support for Pyongyang’s latest stance.

Like many ASEAN countries, Singapore has maintained diplomatic ties with North Korea for decades. It was the reclusive state’s sixth-largest trading partner in 2015, before the United Nations Security Council toughened sanctions against Pyongyang.

By Kim So-hyun (