Opposition slams gov’t over reported U.S. contacts

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Opposition slams gov’t over reported U.S. contacts

Conservative lawmakers bashed President Moon Jae-in’s Blue House on Wednesday for “harming the pride” of South Korea’s government and conglomerates in response to a report that the U.S. Embassy in Seoul directly contacted domestic companies to inquire about their projects with North Korea.

The JoongAng Ilbo exclusively reported Tuesday that the embassy recently contacted “main companies,” including Samsung, Hyundai Motor, LG and SK, to discern the status of their cooperation projects with the North, according to a key Blue House official.

These companies’ executives met with North Korean officials when the businessmen visited Pyongyang in late September as part of Moon’s delegation for the third inter-Korean summit. The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it appeared that Washington was trying to “synchronize the speed” of South Korea and the United States ahead of North-U.S. denuclearization talks and understand the circumstances of their projects with the regime.

Seventeen South Korean businessmen accompanied Moon to Pyongyang from Sept. 18 to 20.

“Our conglomerates have reached such a low point that they have to answer questions from the American Embassy on North Korea projects,” said Kim Byung-joon, interim chief of the main-opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP).

Kim also blamed the Blue House for embarrassing South Korean businessmen when they visited Pyongyang for the third summit between Moon and Kim Jong-un. He cited a remark from Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country of the DPRK, who said to the tycoons over lunch, “Do the cold noodles go down your throat?”

In Korean, the expression scolds one for being too comfortable. The South Korean delegation at the time was eating a bowl of Pyongyang-style naengmyeon (cold noodles) at the famed Okryu Restaurant.

It was not until Monday that the comment was revealed to local media, when LKP Rep. Chung Jin-suk asked Seoul’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon to confirm it during a parliamentary audit. Cho admitted that Ri said it. When Chung asked why Ri scolded them, Cho replied that the North wants to “speed up” South-North relations.

“Until when are we going to show such a servile attitude [to North Korea]?” LKP interim chief Kim lamented on Wednesday. “It’s so frustrating.”

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, HAN YOUNG-IK [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]
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