North Korea has proposed that Seoul discuss the removal of its facilities from the North’s resort of Mount Kumgang, a key symbol of cooperation that Pyongyang has criticized as “shabby” and “capitalist,” officials said yesterday.
In the latest sign of the neighbors’ cooling ties, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has urged that the South’s “backward” and “hotchpotch” facilities at the infrequently used resort be taken down and rebuilt, the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) has said.
North Korea yesterday sent a notice to the South Korean Ministry of Unification, which handles issues between the two sides, seeking discussion through the exchange of documents, the ministry said.
“The government will actively respond through consultations with relevant agencies to protect the property rights of our people,” it said in a statement.
Any withdrawal of South Korean relics from the resort would be another setback for South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s campaign to end confrontation between the old foes, including efforts to resume stalled business initiatives.
“The North asking the South to discuss the issue ‘in writing’ means they don’t even want to talk about other things,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at South Korea’s Sejong Institute.
Mount Kumgang was one of two major inter-Korean economic projects, along with the Kaesong Industrial Region, and an important token of rapprochement during decades of hostilities following the 1950-1953 Korean War.
Kim, on a visit to a nearby province, hailed a new tourist resort being built there as a striking contrast to Mount Kumgang’s “architecture of capitalist businesses targeting profit-making from roughly built buildings,” KCNA said.
However, South Korean Minister of Unification Kim Yeon-chul said that he did not see the North’s proposal as a bid to exclude the South, because Kim Jong-un had said that he would welcome South Koreans if it was properly rebuilt, the Yonhap news agency said.
Tourism has become increasingly key to Kim Jong-un’s policy of “self-reliant” economic growth, as it is not directly subject to UN sanctions aimed at curbing the North’s weapons programs, although they ban the transfer of bulk cash to Pyongyang.
There have been no South Korean tours to Mount Kumgang since 2008, although there have been infrequent events, such as reunions of families from both sides separated by the war.
Kim Jong-un has called for Mount Kumgang to refurbished in “our own style” alongside other tourist zones, such as the Wonsan-Kalma coastal area and the Masikryong Ski Resort.
The Wonsan beach resort, one of Kim Jong-un’s pet projects, is nearing completion by early next year after “remarkable construction progress” since April, 38 North, a US-based project that studies North Korea, said in a report, citing satellite imagery.
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