[EDITORIALS]Don't be a Geumgang patsy

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[EDITORIALS]Don't be a Geumgang patsy

The government reportedly will spend public money to stimulate the Mount Geumgang tourism project. The decision over-rides the government's principle of separating politics from economic dealings in pursuing exchanges and reconciliation with North Korea. And it invites another round of controversy over the extent to which the government is willing to go in employing ad-hoc measures to keep the money-losing Mount Geumgang project afloat.

The government assistance plan, soon to be announced, comprises the doling out of the remaining 45 billion won ($34 million) to the Korea Tourism Corporation from the Inter-Korea Cooperation Fund, which was promised last year, and subsidizing the tourism costs of students or members of separated families. If the measure indeed brings about positive action by the North to designate the scenic mountain resort area as a special tourism zone, we might overlook the minor problems and issues for the larger cause of reconciliation. But the problem lies in that the to-be-announced measure, at best, is a desperate attempt to keep the project alive and not a fundamental answer to the effort for reconciliation between the two Koreas.

The government plan, more than anything else, will be a bad precedent, with money from government coffers spent to make up for losses incurred by a private business group in dealings with North Korea. In this regard, the government should seriously consider whether to nationalize the Mount Geumgang tourism project or pursue fundamental redress through direct negotiations with North Korean authorities to as to why the project is losing money.

The government, by notifying the North of its plan to assist the tourism project through officials of Hyundai Asan Co., the project's main operator, is addressing the problem in complacent and passive manner. If it is the intent of the government to continue the inter-Korean tourism project, which is an icon of its "sunshine policy," it should tackle the problems through direct negotiations with North Korea. And if North Korea continues to be unresponsive to the South's efforts, the government should consider dropping the project altogether. The government will not be able to persuade the public that we need to go on with the project if it continues to show that it is being dragged around by Hyundai Asan and North Korea.
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