On sixth anniversary, one trillion won in losses from halted Mt. Keumgang tours

Posted on : 2014-07-14 16:52 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
South Korean government says no plans to resume tours, which could violate UN sanctions
 on July 11
on July 11

By Choi Hyun-june, staff reporter

July 11 was the 6th anniversary of the day when tours to Mt. Keumgang in North Korea were suspended. The businesses who have invested in the tourism complex and the residents of Goseong County, Gangwon Province are calling for the tours to be resumed, but the government is sticking to its standard position that it must get North Korea to guarantee the safety of tourists as well as consider whether such tours would violate UN sanctions against the North.

On July 10 and 11, the Mt. Kumgang Entrepreneurs Association, which includes 49 companies that have invested in the tourism complex, held press conferences at the National Assembly and at the Central Government Complex in central Seoul.

“As a result of the suspension of tourism to Mt. Keumgang, we have lost nearly 1 trillion won [US$981 million], including the 300 billion won [US$294.32 million] invested in the facilities and an estimated 530 billion won in lost revenue,” the investors said. They urged the governments of North and South Korea to immediately hold working-level talks to resume tourism to Mt. Keumgang and to hold reunions for divided families.

“While we are ignoring relations with North Korea, the North is reconciling with Japan and working to develop its own special zones for tourism. We don’t understand why the South Korean government continues to block tourism at Mt. Keumgang, when it immediately took action to resume operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex during the halt,” said Lee Jong-heung, vice chairman of the association.

The South Korean government is sticking to the position that it cannot permit the resumption of tourism to Mt. Keumgang.

“The position of the government is that the issue of the safety of its citizens must be resolved before it can allow tours to Mt. Keumgang to resume. In addition, given the continuing UN Security Council sanctions in response to North Korea’s nuclear and missile testing, which occurred after tours to Mt. Keumgang were halted, we think that the tours cannot be resumed until the government indicates that doing so would not be in violation of UN sanctions,” said Ministry of Unification spokesperson Kim Ui-do during a regular press briefing on July 11.

However, the conditions set forth by the government for resuming tours to Mt. Keumgang are not appropriate. First of all, while North Korea has on various occasions, indicated both officially and unofficially that it will guarantee the safety of tourists to the complex, the South Korean government has found various reasons to refuse to accept this.

UN sanctions are also no more than an excuse, since tourism to Mt. Keumgang can be categorized as a normal business transaction, just the same as the Kaesong Industrial Complex. “The UN sanctions are only applied when there is a major concern of North Korea using a given project for nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction,” said Lee. “If all money that entered North Korea were a problem, the same sanctions would also have to apply to the funds that are entering the North through the Kaesong Industrial Complex.”

But even if these obstacles were overcome, it is unclear whether the government is actually willing to resume tours to Mt. Keumgang. “In the current situation, tours to Mt. Keumgang are not a large part of the administration’s agenda for North Korea,” one government official said on condition of anonymity.

The government’s interest is currently focused on the Dresden Declaration, the plan for North Korea issued by President Park Geun-hye in March. The intersection of various factors is also why analysts believe it is unlikely that the tours will resume in the foreseeable future.


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