North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said South Korean facilities at North Korea’s Mt Kumgang tourist resort had become “shabby” and had to be removed, state media reported on Wednesday, underlining the cooling relations between the two countries.
Mt Kumgang, or Diamond Mountain, along with the Kaesong industrial zone, was one of two major inter-Korean economic projects developed by the two Koreas.
But Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said on Wednesday that Kim had visited the resort and expressed his disappointment at its condition.
Kim instructed officials to entirely remove the “unpleasant-looking facilities” built by South Korea after discussing the matter with South Korean officials and construct “new modern service facilities our own way that go well with the natural scenery of Mt Kumkang,” KCNA said.
“[Kim] said that the buildings are just a hotchpotch with no national character at all, and that they were built like makeshift tents in a disaster-stricken area or isolation wards,” the agency added.
The report said Kim criticised policies followed by his late father as too dependent on the South.
North and South Korea had been exploring the prospect of re-starting joint economic projects before a recent cooling in relations. North Korea has criticised South Korea for adopting hi-tech weapons and continuing joint military drills with the United States.
South Koreans began visiting Mt Kumgang in 1998, and some of South Korea’s biggest corporations poured more than a billion dollars into what they hoped would be a world-class travel destination.
But after a North Korean soldier shot dead a South Korean tourist who wandered unknowingly into a military area in 2008, South Korea suspended tours, leaving the resort all but empty of visitors.
Tourism is not under international sanctions imposed over North Korea’s nuclear programmes and has become central to Kim’s policy of “self-reliant” economic growth.
“The entire people should cherish the belief that self-reliance is the only way to live,” North Korean state newspaper Rodong Sinmun said in a separate commentary on Wednesday. “There is nothing more foolish than to expect help from others today.”
The resumption of Mt Kumgang tours has been repeatedly mentioned as a possibility by South Korean President Moon Jae-in in recent years.
During a summit with Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang in September 2018, Moon and Kim had agreed to normalise Mt Kumgang tours and the Kaesong industrial complex “as soon as the environment is created,” Moon announced at the time.
In April, United States President Donald Trump was asked before a summit with Moon his stance on the possibility of restarting tours to Mt Kumgang.
“This isn’t the right time, but at the right time I’d have great support,” Trump said, according to South Korean presidential office records.
“They have unbelievable location … surrounded by sea on two sides, the other side Russia, and China and over here SK,” Trump said, referring to North Korea. “You just can’t do better than that. And they have magnificent land. It has tremendous potential.”