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South Korea firms push IT hook-ups with North

By Kim Jong-yoon, JoongAng Ilbo, 3 May 2002

Some South Korean companies are seeking ways to contact and cooperate with their North Korean counterparts in the information-technology industry. They say establishing IT channels between the two Koreas would provide a major foundation for political, economic and cultural exchanges.

They are calling for increased inter-Korean IT cooperation, following progress in other private industry exchanges since the historic summit meeting between leaders of the two Koreas two years ago.

Although North Korea's information technology is not very advanced, it has competitiveness in voice-recognition, medicine and translation software, said a chief executive of a local software development company who visited a software exhibition held by the North in Beijing, China, last month. There needs to be more North-South links in software.

So far, inter-Korean IT cooperation has been limited largely to providing telecommunication service to facilitate other joint economic projects between Seoul and Pyeongyang, such as building light-water nuclear reactors in the North and Mount Geungang tourism.

As of January, a total of 56 communication lines had been built for inter-Korean dialogue, air-traffic control and other projects.

But private-sector cooperation is burgeoning now. Samsung Electronics Co. has signed a contract with the North's Korea Computer Center to jointly develop computer software. The two firms are operating a research center near Beijing, where 12 North Korean engineers are working on 10 joint projects.

Hanabiz.com, a state-sponsored venture for inter-Korean IT cooperation, has set up the Hana Program Center in Dandong, China, jointly with the North to provide IT training for North Korean engineers and develop software.

We plan to work on joint research projects in Linux and language processing which are the basic areas of information technology, a government official said.

North-South exchanges in IT hardware are mainly contract production. For instance, North Korean companies are producing telephones for Samsung Electronics, circuit boards for computer monitors for IMRI Co., and high-speed Internet signal distributors and telephones with caller identification devices for Hanaro Telecom.

In July 2000, Hanaro invested in the construction of a factory to make high-speed Internet signal distributors on a contract basis. The plant, which began operations last year, produced 171,000 filters and 10,000 signal distributors. Last year, the South Korean telecommunication firm agreed with the North to jointly develop a three-dimensional animation titled Dinga the Lazy Cat.

But experts point out that many joint projects have fizzled due to lack of understanding between companies of the two Koreas. So far, Seoul has approved 20 joint projects but just five are making progress.