Experts say Pyongyang’s demolition of South Korean-owned facilities at the Mount Kumgang tourist site, once a symbol of inter-Korean cooperation, signals that the regime is no longer seeking to engage with Seoul and Washington for the instant.
Pyongyang demolished several buildings at the Mount Kumgang golf resort near North Korea’s southeast coast, a move that was captured in commercial satellite photos taken by Planet Labs between April 1 and April 11. VOA’s Korean service has reviewed and authenticated the footage.
Another Mount Kumgang attraction, the Haegumgang Hotel, a seven-storey floating hotel, has also been dismantled, satellite imagery taken by Planet Labs last week shows. VOA’s Korean service has also reviewed and authenticated these images.
“The dismantling of the Haegumgang Hotel and the demolition of the golf course (are) constantly in progress,” South Korea’s unification ministry said on Tuesday.
Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said North Korean leader “Kim Jong Un makes a categorical statement: inter-Korean cooperation is over, at least for the foreseeable future.”
Joseph DeTrani, who served as the special envoy for the Six-Party Denuclearization Talks with North Korea during the George W. Bush administration, said, “With the demolition of the golf course and the hotel, ( North Koreans) tell the (South Koreans) and the United States, ‘We don’t want to do business with you.'”
DeTrani continued, “It’s a very clear statement they’re making,” which is, “We’re going to do (business) with Russia, and we’re going to do it with China.”
“What we’re seeing now is that North Korea is going its own way, and that way is aligning much more closely with China and Russia,” he said.
North Korea is seeking to strengthen economic and trade relations as well as security ties with Beijing and Moscow while maintaining its stockpile of nuclear weapons and missiles, DeTrani said. That, he said, is more attractive to Pyongyang than trying to engage with Seoul and Washington to secure concessions and a security guarantee that would force it to denuclearize.
The North Koreans are “making it very clear that they are not interested in dialogue, again, unless it is on their terms,” which includes sanctions relief, a halt of any joint military exercises and other concessions, DeTrani said.
On Thursday, Kwon Young-se, appointed by South Korea’s President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol to head the Unification Ministry, said, “While North Korea has nuclear weapons and continues to make progress in its nuclear development, I think the normalization of inter-Korean relations is difficult.”
The “Diamond Mountain”
Mount Kumgang, also known as Diamond Mountain, is located in Kangwon Province in North Korea. Revered by all Koreans for its beauty, the region has attracted artists, writers, poets and religious figures for centuries. The inter-Korean tourism project started in 1998.
In 1989, South Korean conglomerate Hyundai Group signed an agreement with North Korea that granted Hyundai exclusive rights to manage and operate Mount Kumgang tourism, including the arrival of South Korean tourists via cruise ships it operated, building resorts and operating attractions, until 2018.
While it’s unclear how much the site earned North Korea under the deal, Hyundai was to pay Pyongyang a fee of $100 a day for every South Korean tourist visiting the site, according to the report. New York Times.
Hyundai was also to pay North Korea $942 million in royalties to hold the tours until 2005, when the deal was to be renegotiated. Hyundai estimated that 500,000 people a year would visit the site for at least three days each during the term of the contract, according to the Times. While the tours ran from 1998 to 2008, nearly 2 million people visited the site, according to the Statista site.
South Korea suspended tours in 2008 after a North Korean guard shot dead a South Korean tourist. Tours remain closed due to UN sanctions.
In September 2017, days after North Korea carried out its sixth nuclear test, the UN Security Council imposed Resolution 2375, which prohibits joint ventures with the regime in order to deprive it of funding for its nuclear programs. armament.
At their February 2019 summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, North Korean leader Kim asked former US President Donald Trump to lift sanctions in exchange for partial denuclearization. It fell through when Trump denied Kim’s request.
The destruction of the Mount Kumgang facilities suggests that North Korea has given up hope of sanctions relief, said Ken Gause, director of the Adversary Analytics program at the NAC.
“The Biden administration has given no indication that it wishes to provide sanctions relief,” Gause said. “There is nothing to give (to North Korea) to hope for sanctions relief, meaning no economic commitments or any kind of economic incentives that can be given by the United States or the South Korea.”
In June 2020, North Korea blew up the joint liaison office built by South Korea in the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas.
Harry Kazianis, president and CEO of the development think tank Rogue States Project, said the developments leading to the demolition of the Mount Kumgang facilities signal that Pyongyang is ending its ties with the outgoing government of President Moon Jae- in.
Kazianis said, “(It’s) a shame because President Moon has staked his entire presidency on inter-Korean dialogue and doing everything he can to foster better relations.”
Meanwhile, Pyongyang is trying to work out its own terms with President-elect Yoon’s new government, experts say.
Gause said, “North Korea knows that the (incoming) Yoon administration is not going to lean forward to try to engage North Korea.” He added that North Korea is trying to ensure that “they are the ones setting the terms” for any possible interaction.
Soo Kim, a former CIA analyst and current political analyst at the Rand Corporation, said, “Kim may want to set the tone and pace of inter-Korean relations before the Yoon administration takes office to ensure that he has control over their interactions. “
“The bottom line for the United States and South Korea is to respond in a way that clearly delineates the limits of their tolerance,” she continued. “Kim has yet to feel the costs of his belligerence and defiant behavior, so he is not deterred. On the contrary, he has been rewarded and validated in the effectiveness of his strategy. The biggest challenge for the United States and South Korea is to prove Kim wrong.”