Nevertheless, some see promise.
Shares in South Korean companies like Posco, the South Korean steel maker; SK Innovation, an oil refining company; and Korea Aerospace — firms that could profit from an economically open North Korea — have rallied over the past week. Ordinary mom-and-pop investors hopeful of a deal are contributing, said Paul Choi, head of Korea research at CLSA, the brokerage firm.
In Europe, one entrepreneur who has done business in North Korea since the late 1990s was watching the summit meeting closely. “I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Paul Tjia, the founder of GPI Consultancy, which advises companies on offshoring their information technology operations.
“We are receiving more questions about North Korea from European companies,” Mr. Tjia said. He said he was planning an “information and communications technology mission” to North Korea in September in order to introduce European companies to the possibilities for outsourcing their basic technology and software development needs to North Korea.
Hyundai has future plans for the Kaesong complex that include a zone for technology that could accommodate 2,000 companies and 600,000 employees, according to its website. It would even have a golf course.
And despite North Koreans’ lack of basic skills, the country has a class of would-be entrepreneurs who are eager to learn, said Mr. See of the Choson Exchange program, and others.
Ian Collins, a consultant who traveled to the western North Korean city of Pyongsong in November through Choson Exchange, said one of the 80 participants in his workshop had told him that some women started a business renting out their bedrooms on an hourly basis to amorous young couples.
While there, Mr. Collins visited an “app store” — a place that sells smartphone apps, like the ones that people have in the rest of the world. But this one was a physical, bricks-and-mortar store in which employees loaded people’s phones with apps.