Kim’s other gam­bit

As­sets at Geum­gang re­sort should be pre­served

The Korea Times - - OPINION -

North Korean leader Kim Jongun has or­dered the re­moval of fa­cil­i­ties owned by South Korean firms from the re­sort com­plex at Mount Geum­gang, re­garded as a sym­bol of in­ter-Korean co­op­er­a­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to North Korea’s Korean Cen­tral News Agency (KCNA), Wed­nes­day, Kim said the re­sort — left aban­doned for over a decade — is full of “shabby” fa­cil­i­ties that are “dishar­mo­nious” with the scenic moun­tain dur­ing a re­cent visit to the area. He or­dered of­fi­cials to be­gin talks with the rel­e­vant South Korean com­pa­nies on de­stroy­ing the fa­cil­i­ties so that the North can re­de­velop the area on its own.

We note that the re­port came shortly af­ter U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said there was “very in­ter­est­ing” in­for­ma­tion on North Korea, with­out elab­o­rat­ing. Dur­ing a Cab­i­net meet­ing at the White House, Monday, Trump said there will be a “major re­build” at some point, re­it­er­at­ing that he main­tains a good re­la­tion­ship with the North’s leader.

Pre­sum­ably, Kim’s visit to Mount Geum­gang car­ries some sig­nif­i­cant mes­sage to the U.S. and South Korea re­gard­ing the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil (UNSC) sanc­tions. Last year, the two Koreas agreed to re­sume tours to Mount Geum­gang and re­open the Gae­seong In­dus­trial Com­plex early based on the con­sen­sus that they should be ex­empted from UNSC sanc­tions. But the U.S. has re­port­edly linked lift­ing sanc­tions on the projects to how North Korea ful­fills its pledge to aban­don its nu­clear pro­gram. As the U.S.-North Korea de­nu­cle­ariza­tion talks re­main dead­locked, there has been lit­tle progress in re­sum­ing the two eco­nomic projects. South Korea’s tours to Mount Geum­gang were launched in 1998, but were sus­pended in 2008 af­ter a fe­male tourist was shot dead by a North Korean guard. Py­ongyang con­fis­cated or froze South Korean as­sets at the re­sort af­ter the tour sus­pen­sion.

By visit­ing the now-de­funct re­sort, Kim is seem­ingly urg­ing Wash­ing­ton to lift or ease sanc­tions on the tours. This is par­tic­u­larly ap­par­ent as Kim was ac­com­pa­nied by First Vice For­eign Min­is­ter Choe Son-hui, the North’s de facto top diplo­mat.

The KCNA re­port also high­lighted Kim’s dis­plea­sure to­ward Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in and his ad­min­is­tra­tion. In crit­i­ciz­ing the South’s in­ac­tion re­gard­ing the re­sump­tion of the tour pro­gram, Kim even scolded bu­reau­crats who stick to a “wrong” pol­icy to­ward South Korea that was formed a long time ago un­der the rule of his fa­ther. On Kim’s or­der, North Korea may soon of­fer talks on how to deal with the South Korean as­sets at the re­sort.

“It is a mistaken idea and a mis­guided un­der­stand­ing to say that Mount Geum­gang is com­mon prop­erty of the two Koreas, and tours to the moun­tain will not be pos­si­ble with­out the de­vel­op­ment of in­ter-Korean re­la­tions,” Kim was quoted as say­ing.

The Geum­gang and Gae­seong in­ter-Korean projects were car­ried out un­der Kim’s pre­de­ces­sor, his fa­ther Kim Jong-il. It may have been shock­ing for North Kore­ans to see their leader pub­licly crit­i­cize his fa­ther.

In a sense, this could have been in­tended by Kim to break the grip of in­er­tia among of­fi­cials han­dling in­ter-Korean projects and to spur eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in gen­eral.

One thing looks clear at the mo­ment. This will be another in­ci­dent prov­ing that North Korea is a risky place for in­vest­ment and eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion.

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