“Resumption of the Kumgangsan tours is the deepest wish of the Korean people, and a matter of survival for Gangwon Province and its Goseong County,” Choi said at a press conference held at the Seoul Foreign Correspondents’ Club.
“The tours will help North Korea to open up to the outside world and usher in peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”
He went on to say that the two Koreas could cooperate again to revitalize the stalled program.
Some correspondents, however, raised questions about his proposal due to the strained inter-Korean relations.
“Given the two Koreas are practically not talking to each other, how do you remain so optimistic as to suggest a resumption?” asked one correspondent from German news agency dpa.
Gov. Choi admitted that the two Koreas remain at odds, but he stressed relevant parties are exhausting efforts to restore dialogue. He said he hopes such endeavors will open the way for a resumption to the tours.
Other correspondents took issue with the safety of such tourism.
“In 2008, North Korea killed a South Korean tourist. How can you guarantee the safety of tourists then?” asked a BBC correspondent.
Gov. Choi treaded carefully, saying, “A North Korean killed the tourist because she set foot on the restricted area. After the incident, North Korea delivered safety assurances to Hyundai Asan, our tour operator.”
Participants also engaged in heated discussion as to whether the resumption would violate UN sanctions due to bulk cash injected into North Korea upon reopening the tours.
“If North Korea receives a large amount of money in exchange for the tours, that could constitute a violation of the UN sanctions. Given you want a resumption, any idea to circumvent that?” questioned a Xinhua news agency correspondent.
Chairman Sin Yang-soo of the Mt. Kumgang Enterpriser Association chipped in to answer the question.
“Contrary to widely held misbeliefs, we don’t pour cash into Pyongyang just to make the tours happen.” Sin said. “Yes, we do pay what you may call an ‘entrance fee’ -- from $30 to $80 per person depending on the duration of the stay -- but that’s a fraction of the total tourists’ expenses.”
The chairman underlined the tourists would be spending money for tour facilities built by Hyundai Asan.
When asked whether North Korea is bluffing about demolishing existing resort facilities at Kumgangsan, Gov. Choi said, “I am not quite sure of it but certain it’s a demonstration of discontent with where the two Koreas stand now.”
“Let the leaders of the two Koreas and US discuss denuclearization. On the sidelines, we carry on exchanges with the North. This is how I see the resumption could get off the ground,” Choi said.
By Choi Si-young (email@example.com