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Kim’s Kumgang plans are part of bigger idea

Oct 26,2019
North Korea wants to build enough hotels on Mount Kumgang to accommodate 10,000 visitors at once, up from the current 4,000 - part of ambitious aims to attract a whole new class of visitors, the JoongAng Ilbo exclusively reported Friday.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made some ambitions public this week by dissing the South Korean facilities on the site now as tacky and shabby and instructing his officials to devise a “master development plan” for the area. It appears, however, that some parts of that master plan were already drawn up at least three months ago.

The Joongang Ilbo reported Friday that it exclusively got hold of a PowerPoint presentation produced by a researcher at the North’s state-run Academy of Social Sciences, which was presented to Chinese officials and researchers at a China-North Korea forum on peninsular issues in Yanji of northeastern China on July 26.

The North Korean researcher, Kim Yong, was part of a delegation from the regime that was comprised of about 10 government officials and experts.

During the forum, the North Koreans were said to have described specific plans to develop the Wonsan-Mount Kumgang tourism zone, stressing that the regime was developing the district into a “world-renowned tourist attraction.”

Mount Kumgang is in North Korea’s southeastern Kangwon Province, just above the inter-Korean border facing the East Sea.

Kim Yong specifically said in his presentation that the North was planning to build more hotels in the area so it can accommodate 10,000 visitors or more at once, far more than the current capacity of about 4,000.

Various parks and entertainment facilities will also be built, Kim Yong said.

When asked by the Chinese participants how the North was planning to pay for the Wonsan-Mount Kumgang project, Kim Yong, according to an unidentified source with knowledge of the forum, replied that a “British delegation” saw the development process of the Wonsan-Kalma coastal tourist area and “asked questions about investment” in it, though no financial transaction took place yet - a hint that Pyongyang would try to find foreign partners.

It is not known whether the North elaborated any further about financing plans or how much it thinks the whole Kumgang project will cost.

The South Korean government and Hyundai Asan invested nearly 435 billion won ($370.7 million) to build hotels and other amenities on Mount Kumgang after former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il clinched a deal with the South Korean company in 1998 to build infrastructure on the iconic mountain and bring South Korean tourists to the area.

The flow of South Korean visitors continued until 2008, when a female South Korean tourist was shot and killed by a North Korean guard at the resort, leading the South to suspend all tours.

In the following years, the North adopted a law to create its own international tour zone around Mount Kumgang to attract foreign currency and selected a North Korean construction company to carry out work.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported Wednesday in an English-language article that Kim Jong-un, while visiting the Mount Kumgang tour zone, “set forth detailed tasks for wonderfully developing modern cultural tourist resort in Mt. Kumgang area so that the people can rest, fully enjoying the natural scenery of the country” - after all the South Korean facilities are removed “with an agreement with the relevant unit of the south side.”

Kim reportedly instructed his underlings to build numerous tour zones around the mountain and to “push for the construction in 3 to 4 stages on a yearly basis after mapping out and examining the master development plan” of the Mount Kumgang tour area. According to the presentation the North showed the Chinese during the forum in July, the North plans to divide the Wonsan-Mount Kumgang tour area into six different zones: Wonsan, the Masikryong Ski Resort, Ullim Falls, Sokwang Temple, Tongchon County and Mount Kumgang.

For Mount Kumgang, the presentation said the North was planning to build hotels, a street of North Korean restaurants, an outdoor camping site, a shopping district, a so-called international culture center, a trade exhibition hall and a ballroom.

On Friday, Seoul’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean ties, announced that it received a message from the North earlier that day to discuss removing South Korean facilities from Mount Kumgang. The ministry said it would discuss the issue with relevant local agencies and “actively deal” with it “based on the utmost principle of protecting our citizens’ property rights.”

BY JEONG YONG-SOO, LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]