[EDITORIALS]A chance to clean up toursThe death of Chung Mong-hun, chairman of Hyundai Asan Corp., has turned another page on the Mount Geumgang tours. First, North Korea sent notice that the tours would be suspended as a gesture of mourning after Mr. Chung’s death, and the Asia-Pacific Peace Committee claimed that his death was caused by the independent counsel’s investigation of the “cash-for-summit” scandal involving money sent to North Korea. But aside from these claims, North Korea experts said that the North’s leader, Kim Jong-il, felt a special attachment to the tours and that Hyundai Asan’s venture would resume eventually.
We acknowledge the symbolic value of the tours that have contributed to inter-Korean exchanges, and credit the tours’ role in reconciling the two Koreas. But questions abounded about the selection of Hyundai to operate the tours and how much government assistance went into them. The operation was also very opaque, opening the possibility of political manipulation on both sides of the border. There have been unending questions about the entire project.
The government appears to be thinking about releasing 19.9 billion won ($16.8 million) in subsidies for the project from the money allocated for that purpose this year. It is probably concerned that the suspension of the tours and the delayed payment of fees to the North would hinder the progress of multilateral dialogue on the North Korean nuclear problem. But this is not an issue to act on in haste. Subsidies for the tours were frozen by the National Assembly after the revelation of North Korea’s nuclear programs. The Assembly must approve the resumption of that spending. The Assembly should review the project and whether the tours should be left to a private business or whether to move them to the public sector. It should also examine whether the government should participate in the project and in what capacity.
To stop political manipulation of the tours, the debate should be conducted across party lines. If this businessman’s death become an opportunity to add legitimacy to inter-Korea exchange projects, then his sacrifice will prove to be a priceless contribution.