Asia-PacificKorea

North Korea’s leader orders South-built resort demolished

In what might be viewed as the latest sign of the frosty inter-Korean relations, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has ordered a tourist complex built by a Southern company on the North's Mount Kumgang to be razed and replaced with modern facilities.

While inspecting the buildings at the tourist site located on the east coast of North Korea on Wednesday, Kim said the buildings had been the result of the predecessors “mistaken policy.”

Mount Kumgang must be taken care of as part of a larger tourist area that encompasses the mountain and the Wonsan-Kalma coastal tourist area, KCNA quoted Kim as saying.

The announcement came surprisingly one day after South Korean President Moon Jae-in, during his address to the parliament, talked about the benefits of what he described as a “peace economy” which would help ensure a “bright future” for the North.

Moon explained that such an economy would prosper through inter-Korean economic projects and went on, “I urge the North to respond.”

The Mount Kumgang tourist complex used to be one of the two major inter-Korean projects, with the other being the Kaesong Industrial Complex, which has now been suspended due to tensions between the two sides.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspects the Mount Kumgang tourist resort, North Korea, in this undated picture released by North Korea’s Central News Agency (KCNA) on October 23, 2019. (Photo by KCNA via Reuters)

“Mount Kumgang is our land won at the cost of blood and even a cliff and a tree on it are associated with our sovereignty and dignity,” Kim said during the visit as quoted by media.

“[Kim] instructed to remove all the unpleasant-looking facilities of the south side with an agreement with the relevant unit of the south side and to build new modern service facilities our own way that go well with the natural scenery of Mount Kumgang,” KCNA reported.

Kim pointed out that tourists from the South were especially welcome to visit the new resort to be built at the site.

“We will always welcome our compatriots from the south if they want to come to Mount Kumgang after it is wonderfully built as the world-level tourist destination.”

South Koreans were allowed to visit Mount Kumgang starting in 1998 by sea and from 2003 by land, with South Korean firms such as Hyundai Asan Corp investing in the tourist resort. However, South Korea suspended the tours in 2008 after a North Korean soldier shot and killed a South Korean tourist who had entered a military zone.

Undated photo of the empty Mount Kumgang tourist resort, North Korea. (Photo by AFP)

Tourism promotion

The tourism industry, which is not included in the international sanctions imposed on North Korea over its missile and nuclear development program, has become the focal point of the government as a main source for the nation’s economic growth.

Kim has pointed to promoting tourism as a key component of his policy of “self-reliant” economic growth.

“The entire people should cherish the belief that self-reliance is the only way to live. There is nothing more foolish than to expect help from others today,” an editorial in the state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun said on Wednesday.

The renewed insistence on self-reliance came as the United Nations warned on Tuesday that food insecurity in North Korea had reached alarmingly high levels, with nearly 11 million people being undernourished.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, United Nations independent investigator on human rights in North Korea, also said that an estimated 140,000 children in North Korea were suffering from “under-nutrition”, including 30,000 who “face an increased risk of death.”

United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in North Korea Tomas Ojea Quintana speaks during a press conference wrapping up his five-day mission to South Korea in Seoul on June 21, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

South’s President Moon has on more than one occasion talked about the possibility of resuming Mt. Kumgang tours in recent years.

Following a summit with Kim in Pyongyang in September 2018, Moon said that the two sides had agreed to work towards setting up Mt. Kumgang tours and the Kaesong industrial complex.

In April, United States President Donald Trump was asked to give his view about the possibility of restarting tours to Mt. Kumgang.

“This isn’t the right time, but at the right time I’d have great support,” Trump said, according to South Korean presidential office records.

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