Hyundai Asan to hold party at Mt. Kumgang

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Hyundai Asan to hold party at Mt. Kumgang

South Korea’s Unification Ministry on Thursday approved a visit to Mount Kumgang in North Korea by executives and employees of Hyundai Asan to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the company’s founding today.

A Unification Ministry official told reporters that an entourage of 22, including Hyundai Asan CEO Bae Kook-hwan, will take part in the celebrations on Mount Kumgang from today to tomorrow.

“This ceremony is a purely private initiative, which will take place based on a request by Hyundai Asan and approved by the North,” the official said.

The official added that the event is unrelated to a possible resumption of South Korean tours to Mount Kumgang, a signature inter-Korean project run by Hyundai Asan that was halted in 2008 after a South Korean tourist was fatally shot by a North Korean soldier apparently after entering an off-limits area of the mountain resort.

“The ceremony is meant to review 20 years of economic cooperation between the South and North and renew our resolve to normalize and reinvigorate our enterprise,” a company spokesman said.

The Hyundai Asan Corporation was founded in February 1999 by the Hyundai Group to carry out inter-Korean initiatives pursued by its founder, Chung Ju-yung. In November 1998, Chung received the blessing of South Korea’s Kim Dae-jung administration to break ground on the first private economic contact with the North, symbolically bringing with him a herd of 500 cows through the demilitarized zone.

Chung signed a landmark agreement with the North during that visit, which granted Hyundai the rights to begin tours for average South Koreans to Mount Kumgang - one of the most celebrated natural landscapes on the Korean Peninsula.

Today’s visit comes only two months after over a hundred Hyundai Group affiliates celebrated the 20th anniversary of the launch of the Mount Kumgang tours at the mountain resort last November. The tours began shortly before the company was founded.

Hyundai Group’s current chairperson, Chung’s daughter-in-law Hyun Jeong-eun, gave a speech at that event signaling her hopes for a resumption of the tours in the near future in light of the detente between the two Koreas since the April 2018 summit between their leaders.

“We are preparing everything to begin [the tours] right away once the United States loosens regulations,” Hyun said.

In addition to the Mount Kumgang tour business, Hyundai Asan also ran tours to Kaesong, the North’s border city near the DMZ, which was once the capital of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392).

The two Koreas jointly constructed a 66-square-kilometer (16,309-acre) industrial park on the outskirts of that city called the Kaesong Industrial Complex, in which Hyundai Asan operated multiple factories and accommodations until the Park Geun-hye administration stopped all South Korean businesses from doing business in the zone in 2016.

While international sanctions on North Korea currently prevent Hyundai Asan from resuming its tours and industrial projects in the North, the company appears to be preparing for a possible loosening of such sanctions at the upcoming U.S.-North Korea summit slated for Feb. 27-28 in Vietnam.

A Unification Ministry official told the Korea JoongAng Daily that the Hyundai Asan visit to the North had been “sufficiently consulted with the relevant country,” implying the U.S. had given a green light for the ceremony.

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