[EDITORIALS]Saving the Kumgang toursFollowing last year’s precedent, the government has decided to provide subsidies for Mount Kumgang tours to middle and high school students and teachers. About 14,000 teachers and 2,000 students will benefit from the 4.9 billion won ($4.78 million) in government funds starting this month and going until March next year.
The Mount Kumgang tour program started in 1998 and it has become the symbol of improved inter-Korean relations. Despite the two naval skirmishes in the Yellow Sea, the trips have continued. While there have been many trials and many errors, the tour has become more diverse, with a wider range of programs including bus tours and visits to beach resorts, than it was in its earlier stage.
And yet, Hyundai Asan, the operator of the inter-Korean tours, suffered about 1 trillion won of losses over the past seven years. To prevent the failure of this project, government subsidies will inevitably be provided. The government’s explanation, that supporting trips by students and teachers is not merely giving them a free tour but enhancing their understanding of unification, is somewhat convincing.
The government must remember that it can cause serious side effects if this becomes an annual event instead of merely setting an example. It is unfair to use tax money to support a private company’s business; it contradicts the principle of separating politics and economics. If the state subsidies continue despite an improved business environment, the government will find it difficult to avoid the criticism that it is favoring a specific company and pouring money into North Korea.
The two Koreas and Hyundai have highly praised the Mount Kumgang program for its place as a milestone in inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation. It is necessary, then, to put more effort into creating fundamental conditions for sustainable business success. To this end, North Korea must not repeat its unreasonable behavior, such as cutting the admission quota for South Korean tourists to enter the North Korean resort when its demand that a dismissed Hyundai executive be reinstated was not met.
The government and Hyundai must not rely on the stopgap measure of using tax money instead of coming up with a stable and profitable business structure. Such an unreasonable business method won’t be able to sustain the Mount Kumgang tour.