NKorea promises to redevelop its mountain excursion site despite pandemic

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – A senior North Korean official visited a hill station that had been jointly managed with rival South Korea during a past reconciliation and discussed efforts to unilaterally rebuild it in ” a cultural resort envied by the whole world, ”media reported on Sunday.

Some experts say North Korea could pressure South Korea for economic engagement as the pandemic worsens North Korea’s economic woes.

On a trip to Diamond Mountain Resort, Prime Minister Kim Tok Hun “stressed the need to build the tourist area in our own way, in which national character and modernity are combined while being in good harmony with the natural landscape, ”the Korean Central News Agency reported.

Kim said North Korea aims to make the mountainous region “one well known for serving the people and a cultural resort envied by the whole world.” He and other officials discussed the design and construction of a “world class hotel, golf course, ski field,” according to KCNA.

North Korea had a joint mountain touring program with South Korea for about 10 years before he was suspended following the shooting death of a South Korean tourist in 2008. About 2 millions of South Korean tourists had visited the resort, a scarce source of foreign currency for the impoverished North.

When relations have improved in recent years, the two Koreas have pushed to relaunch stalled joint economic projects, including the Diamond Mountain tours. But Seoul was ultimately unable to do so without defying punitive UN sanctions imposed on the North’s nuclear program.

At the end of last year, an angry North Korea pushed for the destruction of hotels and other South Korean manufacturing facilities at the complex and demanded that South Korea send workers to the site. to clean buildings. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called the South Korean facilities “seedy” and “unpleasant in appearance”.

But in January, North Korea postponed demolition plans over concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.

North Korea said it had found no cases of the virus, a claim disputed by many outside experts. A major epidemic in North Korea could have devastating consequences as its health system remains fragile. The pandemic also hit the northern economy hard, along with UN sanctions and a series of natural disasters this summer.

Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said the timing of Sunday’s North Korean statement was less about tourism than political pressure. “By jeopardizing Seoul’s hopes of engagement,” North Korea is pressuring South Korea “to find ways to take back the financial benefits for the North,” he said.

Before the pandemic, North Korea welcomed Chinese tourists to the resort. But experts doubt that he can redevelop and turn the region into a major tourist spot without South Korea’s cooperation.

The resort is located just north of the Inter-Korean border and hundreds of kilometers (miles) from the northern border with China. North Korea’s poor transport links make it difficult to bring large numbers of Chinese tourists there.

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