Kumgangsan in North Korea. (Joint Press Corps)
North Korea said Sunday that it will expand the inter-Korean resort town on the east coast near Kumgangsan in its own way, in a move seen as trying to rally its people ahead of the January party congress.
The regime is expected to unveil a new economic initiative there.
In January this year, Pyongyang put off plans to tear down the South Korean-built resort facilities amid the coronavirus pandemic. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had insisted on their demolition, calling the facilities “shabby.”
“We will develop the town our way and turn it into a world-class spot,” the Korean Central News Agency quoted the premier, Kim Tok-hun, as saying.
The tourism zone, a symbol of inter-Korean rapprochement, attracted visitors from 1998 to 2008. Seoul suspended visits to the zone in July 2008, when one of its tourists was shot and killed by a North Korean soldier. The North claimed she had entered a fenced-off military area near the zone.
Hopes for the resumption of inter-Korean projects, including tours to the resort, were raised in September 2018, when President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to revive cross-border cooperation at their third summit.
A year later, leader Kim Jong-un fueled speculation as he discussed the unconditional resumption of tours in his New Year’s address in January 2019, only to reverse his decision in December that year and demand the South demolish the resort facilities altogether.
Since then, Pyongyang has kept brushing aside Seoul’s offers for dialogue on the matter.
President Moon Jae-in, keen to break the deadlock over inter-Korean exchanges, then floated the idea of allowing individual tours to the scenic spot in Pyongyang instead of the routine group tours.
Moon was suggesting Seoul take the initiative on its own to engage Pyongyang regardless of the sanctions the US has in place against North Korea.
Washington has not been on board with reviving the tours because they could help Pyongyang bypass sanctions and bankroll its nuclear weapons programs. Individual tours are less likely to involve “bulk cash” or lump sums of cash that could contribute to prohibited activities.
Seoul’s initiative failed to materialize as it could draw neither Washington nor Pyongyang to the table for talks to work out details of the plan.
By Choi Si-young (firstname.lastname@example.org