[EDITORIALS]The opening continuesOn the heels of its announcement that it would return to the six-party talks, North Korea said yesterday, through Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun, that it would allow the South to operate tours on Mount Paektu, in Kaesong and in inland areas of Mount Kumgang. A pilot program in Kaesong is expected to begin as early as Aug. 15. South Korean tourists will have more options for destinations in North Korea. This indicates that the North is carefully opening up following its July 1 economic reform measures.
If next week’s six-party talks go smoothly, the two Koreas will be able to see a new era of cooperation and eased tension on the peninsula, with full operations at the Kaesong industrial complex, electricity supplied to the North by Seoul and expanded civilian exchanges, such as tourism. This will be a whole new era.
But agreements with North Korea have often come to sudden halts, due to Pyongyang’s failures to live up to them or due to lack of preparations. Tour programs to Pyongyang and Mount Paektu, carried out by Pyeonghwa Air Travel, began in 2003, but were stopped only a month and half later, with no clear reasons given. They have not been resumed since.
The Mount Kumgang tours recently began seeing profits, but had long been a money loser due to the North’s unreasonable demands in return for exclusive rights. Gains were recorded only after overland tour programs were added, admission fees were lowered and the government began providing subsidies and encouraging school field trips. To insure that the new programs are profitable and to encourage Pyongyang to keep opening up, the government should provide sustainable support and supervision by setting up its own policy in addition to Hyundai’s plans.
It is also important that tourism in the South not suffer. To this end, the government should come up with plans to link tour operations in the South’s Mount Seorak with the North’s Mount Kumgang, Kaesong and Mount Paektu.
It is good that the North is opening up further. But a true opening will only possible when it gives up its nuclear arms programs. Rather than contenting themselves with tour programs, North Korea’s leaders should make the wise decision to dismantle their nuclear weapons and seize the opportunities for support, investment and development offered by the international community.