N. Korea asks S. Korea to remove facilities at Mt. Kumgang on agreed-upon date: ministry

October 25, 2019

North Korea demanded Friday that South Korea remove its facilities from the North’s Mount Kumgang resort on an agreed-upon date, saying the country will build a new tourist zone of its own at the scenic mountain, according to the unification ministry.

In a notice delivered earlier in the day through the joint liaison office in the North’s border town of Kaesong, the North also said it wants to discuss details with the South in writing, rather than at face-to-face talks, according to the ministry.

South Korea called for face-to-face talks to resolve the issue and said it will seek “creative solutions” to normalize the now-suspended tour program to the mountain, with the top priority to be placed on protecting the property rights of its people.

“The North has asked the government and private companies to remove their facilities on an agreed-upon date,” ministry spokesperson Lee Sang-min told a press conference in Seoul. “It said that practical matters can be agreed upon through exchange of documents.”

“I think we need government-to-government meetings,” he said.

The spokesperson said that South Korea will take time to consider relevant “conditions and environment” to come up with countermeasures in light of the significance of the Mount Kumgang tour program.

“By sufficiently reviewing the changed environment, our government will draw up creative solutions to the Mount Kumgang tour,” he said.

North Korea’s offer for cross-border discussion came days after leader Kim Jong-un ordered the removal of all South Korea-constructed “unpleasant-looking” buildings through an “agreement with the relevant unit of the south side.”

During a field-guidance trip to the mountain, Kim also criticized his father’s policy for depending on South Korea and signaled that it would push for a tour program without outside help. He still said that South Koreans will be welcome to visit the mountain.

North Korea appears to have launched a new government organization that will spearhead its own new tour project at the mountain, according to the unification ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs.

Launched in 1998, the tour program to the North’s’ mountain was regarded as a major inter-Korean cooperative project. It was suspended, however, in 2008 after a female tourist was shot to death by a North Korean guard.

South Korea invested a huge amount of money in launching the joint tour program at the scenic mountain. Hyundai Asan Corp., in particular, a South Korean firm that owns a 50-year license for its operation, spent about 800 billion won (US$683.18 million) in constructing buildings and facilities necessary for the project.

Experts see Kim’s order to remove all of South Korea-built facilities as illustrating his frustration with the inter-Korean project gathering dust and as a veiled demand for the easing of the United States-led sanctions against Pyongyang.

The unification ministry spokesperson said the inclusion of First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui in the entourage for Kim’s recent trip to the mountain appears to be designed to send a signal to the U.S., though he did not elaborate.

In September last year, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim agreed to resume the Mount Kumgang tour as soon as conditions are met. Little progress, however, has since been made in the face of sanctions banning economic projects involving North Korea.

Kim has shown keen interest in developing the tourism industry as a cash cow at a time when global sanctions are crippling its anemic economy.

Earlier in the day, Pyongyang’s media reported Kim’s trip to a construction site at a spa resort in central North Korea, touting it as much better than the South Korean-built resort at Mount Kumgang in an indication of his intention to develop the tourism industry without outside help.