[EDITORIALS]North impeding progressFresh debate has erupted about the Mount Geumgang tours in the wake of the death of Hyundai Asan’s chairman, Chung Mong-hun. While not many people question the significance of the tours, there is consensus that it is not easy to decide whether the government should subsidize the operation substantially or ask another private company to take over the business. Unfortunately, North Korea is provoking doubt on the tours and inter-Korean economic exchanges in general.
North Korea’s Asia-Pacific Peace Committee has claimed that Mr. Chung was “killed” by the independent counsel’s investigation into the cash-for-summit case. Grand National Party lawmakers scheduled to visit Pyeongyang to attend a KBS talent show cancelled their trip after the North demanded that they visit as private citizens, not as politicians. North Korea’s behavior is hurting a business that can benefit that nation and generating a negative mood in the South on inter-Korean economic exchanges, including the Gaeseong industrial park project.
The unification minister, Jeong Se-hyun, said Wednesday that it is time to promote inter-Korean exchanges based more on agreements and regulations rather than on personal relationships, as they have been. He said that the North put a financial burden on the South Korean firm by delaying the enactment of a law on Mount Geumgang special tourism zone more than two years after the initial pledge. Mr. Jeong’s point is that North Korea must help make the projects work.
The North Korean nuclear problem has slowed by several months progress on projects that can help both Koreas. But there is cautious hope that with the expected opening of six-party talks on the nuclear issue, inter-Korean ties might improve. But there are also arguments that we cannot continue to pour taxpayers’ money into ill-fated projects. It would be an error for the North to think that we will continue to pursue projects in the face of action that elicits negative responses among the public and the political community here. It would be a mistake for North Korea to expect business to go forward as usual unless it changes its ways.