Resume tourism on Mount KumgangA dried seafood store at 915 Kumgangsan-ro, Hyonnae-myon, Kosong-gun, in Gangwon, has remained closed for seven years. The store used to see 1 million won ($880) in sales each day - when tourism at Mount Kumgang was still thriving, that is. Its address contains Kumgang due to its location as a gateway for tourists, and the store itself was the foundation for its 60-year-old owner, Lee Jong-bok. He worked hard to support his three children and send them to college.
But on July 11, 2007, everything changed when South Korean tourist Park Wang-ja was shot and killed by North Korean soldiers. The shocking news led the government to suspend tourism activities on Mount Kumgang, and the store idled.
The government has informed the Mount Kumgang Business Association, of which Lee is a member, to wait a bit longer, tourism would resume soon. Yet, on July 7, the association held a press conference, and Lee seemed gloomy.
“I couldn’t meet today’s wages,” he said afterward, “but I am relieved to have said what I’ve always wanted to say.”
The Mount Kumgang Business Association urged the government to resume tourism and remove the sanctions imposed on North Korea following the fatal attack on the South Korean Cheonan warship in March 2010, which left 46 sailors dead. Representatives from 49 tourism-related companies, aside from Hyundai Asan, said the sales losses added up to 800 billion won ($702 million) as of last month, calling “the sanctions dividing South and North Korea as a new 38th parallel.”
They also addressed how tourism has not been handled fairly compared to the inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex and asked for legislation to help businesspeople with the losses. Mount Kumgang Business Association President Lee Jong-heung said that the government made loans to some companies from the Inter-Korean Cooperation Fund, though those were not effective and debt remained.
Inter-Korean economic cooperation is a sensitive issue. A government official said that the struggles of the businessmen were understandable, but linking the lifting of the sanctions with the resumption of tourism at Mount Kumgang was only accepting North Korea’s argument. Another foreign policy and unification source, who requested anonymity, added that when the government announced sanctions against Iran in September 2010, related companies suffered losses but accepted it. But inter-Korean economic cooperation is even harder because national interests must be taken into account in addition to business interests.
At the ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and Japan on June 22, President Park told Japan to “unload the heavy burden of history.”
“I am not sure if she can say the same thing to Pyongyang,” Lee said.
The author is a political and international news writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 8, Page 29
by CHUN SU-JIN