Hol­i­day in so­cial­ist fairy­land? N. Korea woos tourists

The China Post - - LIFE - BY ERIC TAL­MADGE

If you’re still look­ing for some­where ex­otic to go this sum­mer and don’t mind a va­ca­tion that comes with a heavy dose of so­cial­ist pro­pa­ganda and leader wor­ship, North Korea says it’s just the place for you.

Fresh off a dras­tic, half-year ban that closed North Korea’s doors to vir­tu­ally all for­eign­ers over fears they would spread the Ebola virus — de­spite the fact that there were no cases of Ebola re­ported any­where in Asia — the coun­try is once again determined to show off its “so­cial­ist fairy­land” to tourists.

The fo­cus on tourism is the bless­ing of Kim Jong Un him­self and, in typ­i­cal fash­ion, of­fi­cials have set lofty goals in their ef­fort to please their leader.

About 100,000 tourists came to North Korea last year, all but a few thou­sand of them from neigh­bor­ing China.

Kim Sang Hak, a se­nior econ­o­mist at the in­flu­en­tial Academy of So­cial Sciences, told The As­so­ci­ated Press the North hopes that by around 2017, there will be 10 times as many tourists and that the num­ber will hit 2 mil­lion by 2020.

Py­ongyang’s in­ter­est in at­tract­ing tourists may sound ironic, or even con­tra­dic­tory, for a coun­try that has taken ex­treme mea­sures to re­main shel­tered from the out­side world.

But Kim said the push, for­mally en­dorsed by Kim Jong Un in March 2013, is seen as both a po­ten­tially lu­cra­tive rev­enue stream and a means of coun­ter­ing stereo­types of the coun­try as starv­ing, back­ward and re­lent­lessly bleak.

“Tourism can pro­duce a lot of profit rel­a­tive to the in­vest­ment re­quired, so that’s why our coun­try is putting pri­or­ity on it,” he said in a re­cent in­ter­view in Py­ongyang, adding that along with scenic moun­tains, se­cluded beaches and a seem­ingly end­less ar­ray of mon­u­ments and mu­se­ums, the North has an­other ace up its sleeve — the im­age that it is sim­ply un­like any­where else on Earth.

“Many peo­ple in for­eign coun­tries think in a wrong way about our coun­try,” Kim said, brush­ing aside crit­i­cisms of its hu­man rights record, lack of free­doms and prob­lems with hunger in the coun­try­side. “Though the eco­nomic sanc­tions of the U.S. im­pe­ri­al­ists are in­creas­ing, we are de­vel­op­ing our econ­omy. So I think many peo­ple are cu­ri­ous about our coun­try.”

Op­po­nents in the West say tourists who go to North Korea are help­ing to fill the cof­fers of a rogue regime and harm­ing ef­forts to iso­late and pres­sure Py­ongyang to aban­don its nu­clear weapons and im­prove its hu­man rights record. For safety rea­sons, the U.S. State Depart­ment strongly ad­vises U.S. cit­i­zens not to travel to North Korea.


In this July 28, 2014 file photo, North Korean women talk over pots of burning char­coal for cooking seafood on a pier lead­ing to Jang­dok Is­land at dusk, in Won­san, North Korea, a fa­vorite among North Korean va­ca­tion­ers, and be­ing pushed as a prime des­ti­na­tion for in­ter­na­tional trav­el­ers.

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