[KH Biz Forum] Choson Exchange founder stresses ASEAN as platform for entrepreneurship in NK

By Cho Chung-un

Published : Oct 16, 2018 - 17:14
Updated : Oct 16, 2018 - 17:14

The ASEAN countries, including Singapore, can be a neutral platform upon which to build entrepreneurship in North Korea and facilitate inter-Korean economic ties in a stable and consistent manner, the head of Choson Exchange said Tuesday.

Speaking at The Korea Herald Biz Forum in Seoul, Geoffrey See, founder and CEO of the organization, said he hopes that Singapore and ASEAN can play a role in bringing about the gradual integration of both Koreas’ economies and with North Korea’s transition to a more “normal” economy. 

Geoffrey See, founder and the CEO of Choson Exchange, speaks at The Korea Herald Biz Forum in Seoul on Tuesday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)



North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s visit to Singapore and his impromptu tour of the city-state on the occasion of the historic US-North Korea summit on June 12 sent a strong message both to his people and the outside world that Pyongyang is eager for immediate economic development. But pushing North Korea with economic models built in the US, China and South Korea will not be effective, See said, stressing that it will take considerable time for North Korea to join the global community of free-market economies.

“DPRK still worries about stability and survival. It is concerned not just with the US, but also competition from China, Japan and South Korea,” he said. “This is why a neutral platform is needed to learn and experiment with, and to allow the DPRK to gain confidence in new economic policies while maintaining independence.”

Based in Singapore, Choson Exchange has trained more than 2,300 North Koreans in economic policy, business and entrepreneurship in an effort to help the country develop an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Inspired by a North Korean woman who dreamed of becoming a business leader, See founded the organization in 2009, holding lectures in North Korea and operating exchange programs for North Koreans who want to experience business practices in ASEAN countries.

North Koreans were suspicious of Choson Exchange’s operations in the beginning, See explained, owing to the country’s socialist economic system.

“North Koreans have an interest in business, but were not aware of the process (of) how products are sold through marketing strategies, or of the differences between regular businesses and startup ventures,” he said. They also feared that the Communist Party might strip them of their ownership rights and assets.

But the closer Choson Exchange got to the people, the more pragmatic they became. And so too did the North Korean leadership.

A growing number of North Koreans today are interested in startups, e-commerce and urban planning, See said.

To help them start businesses of their own, Choson Exchange hopes to establish an incubator for budding businesses in North Korea, he said, adding that there’s already a list of startups in North Korea -- such as an app developer providing streaming services for NBA basketball games and retailers promoting health products such as medicinal teas.

See, who has made more than 50 trips to North Korea over the past 10 years, also works as a technology entrepreneur at startup Anquan Capital, a protocol blockchain developer. He also jointly founded a co-working space in Vietnam, which is now the largest in Saigon. 

By Cho Chung-un (christory@heraldcorp.com)

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The Korea Herald by Herald Corporation