[EDITORIALS]Tour support questionedThe financial support the government will give to the Mount Geumgang tours starting next month raises many questions. First, there is the question of whether it is appropriate for the government to "mobilize" tour groups in an effort to save the tourism project at the North Korean mountain. Moreover, it seems that North Korea isn't showing any effort on its own part to promote its Mount Geumgang tours. Nor is Hyundai Asan, the struggling private company that runs the tours, showing any self-resuscitating methods.
This support plan is based on a clause in the Inter-Korea Cooperation Fund Act that calls for support funds to be given in the cross-boundary traffic of North and South citizens, and it is seen as a contributing factor to the growth of North-South interaction and cooperation. Whether the Mount Geumgang tours can be called such a factor is debatable, however. South Koreans who go on these tours are not allowed to step out of the secluded tourist location and interact with North Korean residents. The tours are even called "Don't do tours" or "Barbwire tours" because of so many restrictions imposed on tourists.
There are approximately 14 million people eligible for government support fees when going on a Mount Geumgang tour. The government would provide for more than half of their tour fees leading to predictions that Sulbong, the Hyundai Asan cruise ship for the tours, would once again run on a monthly 7,000-capacity crowd. The main target of the plan would be the student population, but there are other people who would be eligible as well - some who would even be provided with the entire fee for the tour. This would lead to a dispute that the government is trying to influence public opinion before the local elections and the presidential election to be held this year.
The government is making a tremendous effort to save the Mount Geumgang tours, the darling of Seoul's "sunshine" policy toward the North. For these efforts to win public support, however, North Korea and Hyundai Asan must give some evidence of their cooperation as well. This support effort for the tours means pouring people's tax money into a hardly efficient private company, to a stubbornly uncooperative regime and to growing suspicions about a political aim geared for upcoming elections.