Kumgang decision will backfireTourism to Mount Kumgang, which was suspended after South Korean tourist Park Wang-ja was shot and killed by a North Korean soldier at the resort in 2008, appears to be ending for good. North Korea officially informed its southern counterparts that it will implement a “legal disposal” of the hotels, duty-free shops, spas, a performance hall, a golf course and electric generators at the complex co-owned by our government, the Korea Tourism Organization and Hyudai Asan corporation.
South Korea invested approximately 500 billion won ($462 million) to build those facilities, and 1.95 million South Koreans have visited the resort.
The “legal disposal” mentioned by the North seems to refer to confiscation of South Korean properties. With the North’s latest announcement, South Korea’s monumental Mount Kumgang tour business is on the verge of collapse after 13 years. It is regrettable that a symbol of inter-Korean cooperation may vanish soon.
As a matter of fact, the North has been pressing the South to resume the tourism business without sufficient explanation for the tragic death of a South Korean tourist and without a promise to prevent the repetition of such a mishap in the future. Especially since March, the North has taken incremental steps to build pressure against the South, including an investigation of our properties, a phased deportation of South Korean managers, a partial freeze and seizure of our assets, a revocation of Hyundai Asan’s exclusive rights to the tourism business and the enactment of a law designating the area as a special international tourism zone.
The measures are clearly meant to build legal grounds for the confiscation. Given that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has reportedly ordered the transformation of the complex into a special tourism zone aimed at wealthy foreigners, it is highly likely that the North prepared for the ultimate scenario - making money from foreigners through South Korean investments - from the beginning.
But such a cunning calculation will surely backfire. There will be very few, if any, foreigners who would be willing to tour the resort knowing that a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean security guard there.
The North should end its preposterous attempt to swallow up South Korea’s assets and immediately resume the Kumgang tourism. It must not aggravate the situation because the only tourists it can possibly hope to attract is us - South Koreans.