Pyongyang plans to redevelop its flagship Mount Kumgang tourist complex into an international resort, a year after leader Kim Jong Un ordered South Korean-built buildings there demolished, state media reported on Sunday.
The resort – once a prominent symbol of inter-Korean economic cooperation – was built by South Korea’s Hyundai Asan on one of North Korea’s most scenic mountains, drawing hundreds of thousands of Southern visitors.
But last year, Kim condemned the development with South Korea as an eyesore and described facilities there as “shabby” and built like “makeshift tents in a disaster-stricken area or isolation wards”, ordering their removal.
On Sunday, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that Kim Tok Hun, North Korea’s premier, stressed “the need to build the tourist area our own way” to turn it into a “cultural resort envied by the whole world”, during his visit to the area.
He also called for pushing ahead to turn the area into a “modern and all-inclusive international tourist” resort, it added.
The Mount Kumgang complex was once one of the two biggest inter-Korean projects, along with the now-shuttered Kaesong Industrial Complex, where Southern companies employed North Korean workers while paying Pyongyang for their services.
But its tours came to an abrupt end in 2008 after a North Korean soldier shot dead a tourist from South Korea who strayed off an approved path, and Seoul suspended travel.
Reclusive North Korea has long wanted to resume the lucrative visits, but they would now violate international sanctions imposed on Pyongyang for its nuclear and ballistic weapons programmes – although South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in has long championed engagement with Pyongyang.
In June, North Korea blew up a liaison office with South Korea on its side of the border – paid for by Seoul – saying it had no interest in talks.
“The Kim regime will struggle to find the resources to redevelop Mt Kumgang and needs outside investment, but is signalling it will downgrade South Korean partners and stakeholders,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
“By holding Seoul’s hopes for engagement at risk, Kim is pressuring the Moon administration to find ways of resuming financial benefits for the North.”