By Cathy Rose A. Garcia
Some prospective foreign investors are increasingly becoming concerned about the escalating tension on the Korean Peninsula, with one Chinese investor already postponing plans to invest in a major property development project in Incheon.
The brouhaha over South Korean military’s live-fire artillery exercise Monday further increased the tension between the two Koreas. Last month North Korea opened fire on Yeonpyeong Island, killing four people ― two South Korean marines and two civilians.
Joseph Chiang, president of Lippo Incheon Development, said the situation between South and North Korea has affected the company’s marketing efforts for Midan City, a leisure and tourism-oriented project on Yeongjong Island.
`` (The situation) does affect our marketing efforts. One large investor in China made up their mind to invest, but due to this situation, they had to postpone action till further developments,’’ Chiang told The Korea Times.
Several Chinese investors had earlier expressed interest in investing in Midan City, which is part of the Incheon Free Economic Zone. The project is envisioned as an ``all-in-one-city’’ with shopping malls, resort hotels, medical facilities, a golf village and entertainment facilities.
It seems the extensive international news coverage on North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island last month has made a dent in South Korea’s image.
Steven S. Bammel, president of Korea Consulting & Translation Service, said the situation between the two Koreas is certainly affecting the nerves of foreign investors in South Korea.
``There’s no doubt that foreign investors looking at Korea hesitate when they see the situation. With so many other less risky but attractive investment destinations elsewhere in East Asia, Korea loses out. For example, after the Cheonan (navy boat sinking) incident in the spring, I had a client cancel a trip to Korea and other clients have asked me nervously what’s going on,’’ Bammel told The Korea Times.
However, for many expatriate businessmen already living in Seoul, the current tension on the Korean Peninsula may not make much of an impact in their daily lives and future business plans.
Bammel, who also runs the website KoreaBusinessCentral.com (KBC), said there has been surprisingly little concern shown by KBC members in the North Korean situation.
``I’d say the average member is thinking more about day-to-day business and life than about war; this mirrors the views in Korean society at large. I’ve been posting to a discussion on the 60th anniversary of the Korean War for several months now but it gets far fewer comments than a discussion about the challenges of foreigners working in Korean companies,’’ Bammel said.
A European businessman, who declined to be identified, admitted that his business partners from abroad have called to check on the current situation. ``I assured him it was business as usual, but it’s difficult to say what North Korea will do,’’ the businessman said.
The timing of South Korea’s live-fire artillery exercise coincides with the start of the annual Christmas holidays for many expatriates in Seoul. This means foreign officials at the various chambers of commerce have left or are planning to leave for abroad this week. The Korea Times tried to contact officials at the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea, European Union Chamber of Commerce in Korea and Australian Chamber of Commerce in Korea, but was told that they were out of the country.