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South still can have Kumgang role, says North

Nov 12,2019
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s ambitions for Mount Kumgang do not exclude South Korea, according to a propaganda outlet on Friday.

Choson Sinbo, a propaganda mouthpiece run by the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, or Chongryon, detailed the rationale behind Kim’s bombshell order last month to remove South Korean built infrastructure from Mount Kumgang.

The dictator concocted his plans to develop the area while on horseback on Mount Paektu last month, the report said.

“[North] Korea already decided in 2014 to develop the Wonsan-Mount Kumgang tourist region to further activate international tourism in Wonsan and renowned sites on the eastern coast,” it said. Mount Kumgang fit in with the regime’s other major tourism projects like the Wonsan-Kalma beach resort, to be completed by next spring.

“Massive creative challenges, like the construction of tourist areas, is equivalent to a fierce struggle with inimical foreign forces seeking to smother North Korea with their thieving sanctions blockade,” the report quoted Kim as saying.

Development of Mount Kumgang is “closely linked” to the dictator’s vow on Mount Paektu to surprise the world with “a great event of weighty importance,” the report said. Such an instruction was only possible because of the resolution to face the enemy’s sanctions with self-reliance, it said, akin to the way in which North Korea “ended the long-standing threat of nuclear weapons with nukes” of its own.

To this end, Kim noted in his visit to Mount Kumgang in late October that the “unpleasant-looking” and “shabby” facilities built by South Korea were no longer suitable, particularly because of the dilapidated state of the buildings due to what the newspaper called neglect by the South Korean government and its tour operators.

Seoul’s “unilateral” decision to suspend tours to the area in 2008 - after the killing of a South Korean tourist by a guard - and attempts to forbid visits by its operators to the North in 2011 led Pyongyang to determine that the South renounced its property claims at the resort, the report claimed.

Yet “South Korea has not been excluded from the Mount Kumgang tourism development project,” the report said, referring back to Kim’s remarks that South Korean citizens will be welcomed at the new resort.

“What has been excluded,” it read, “is a mentality and behavior of reliance on others that goes against the principle of self-reliance.”

This report came as Seoul waits for Pyongyang to make a decision on whether South Korean officials and tour operators could make a visit to Mount Kumgang.

Last week, South Korea’s Unification Ministry asked Pyongyang if its officials could inspect the infrastructure in the tourism zone. It clearly wanted to prevent an irreversible end to the inter-Korean project, which could mean immense economic losses to both its companies and the government.

Choi Moon-soon, governor of Gangwon Province in South Korea, held a press conference Monday in which he called on Washington to help salvage inter-Korean tourism. Choi said he delivered a letter to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence during a recent trip to Washington focusing on the importance of the Mount Kumgang tours not only to his province but inter-Korean and U.S.-North Korea relations.

The primary impediment to inter-Korean tours going forward has been U.S.-led international sanctions on the North’s economy, which Washington has repeatedly pressured Seoul to respect.

Monday also saw a flurry of commentaries from North Korean state media lashing out at the South, with DPRK Today claiming Seoul was “stupid” for submitting to Washington’s “reckless and robber-like demand” for increased defense costs for the stationing of U.S. forces on the peninsula.

Another state outlet, the Arirang Maeri, claimed South Korean authorities were engaging in “beggar diplomacy” that was “sickening” the nation.

“The more the South Korean authorities treat their master like a grandfather and pay it with the people’s blood tax, the more brazen the United States’ transgressions shall become, tightening the noose of colonial slavery,” said Uriminzokkiri, another state-run outlet.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]