[EDITORIALS]Chung Mong-hun’s suicideThe unexpected death of Hyundai Asan Chairman Chung Mong-hun is shocking not only for the business community but for the nation. The suicide of the head of a Korean conglomerate is the tragedy of an individual. But he was not just a businessman. He was the leader of inter-Korean economic cooperation and his death provokes many thoughts.
It is hard to say what drove him to suicide, but Mr. Chung had many concerns. Inter-Korean business was stagnant. Prosecutors were investigating 15 billion won ($12.5 million) in illicit payments made by Hyundai. The notes Mr. Chung left behind were studded with regrets. “Please forgive my foolishness and wrongdoing,” he wrote, indicating some remorse in his life as a business leader.
Hyundai’s plight is probably an inevit-able consequence of its participation in economic cooperation between the two Koreas. Amid the dealing between Hyundai and the leaderships of the two Koreas and the concealed circumstances surrounding the 2000 inter-Korean summit, Hyundai’s destiny was charted. For two generations, first under the group’s late founder Chung Ju-yung, Hyundai ignored profitability and sheltered under the wing of state power to go ahead with unviable inter-Korean economic programs. Such practices brought today’s tragedy.
The collapse of Hyundai Asan was an unavoidable product of the thaw between the two Koreas. The Kim Dae-jung administration tried to maintain inter-Korean economic cooperation through collusion between politics and business. Yet Hyundai’s owner and managers were business veterans. Business failure is their responsibility. Mr. Chung’s death should provide a moment for us to reflect on the primary function of a company.
Regardless of how he was viewed as a businessman, it is natural to feel pity and sorrow over Mr. Chung’s suicide. His choice leaves unfinished tasks. Inter-Korean economic cooperation will likely be impeded, and Hyundai’s operation faces a crisis. The investigation of its unlawful funds transfers to the North must proceed. Economic projects between the two Koreas should continue systemically, rather than rely on Hyundai Asan.