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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 16)

Editorials from Korean Dailies 09:23 November 16, 2019

N. Korea's ultimatum
Two Koreas share responsibility for stalled Geumgang tours

North Korea said Friday it has sent an "ultimatum" to South Korea that it will demolish all facilities owned by South Korean firms at its Mount Geumgang Resort. The Unification Ministry expressed concerns about the move, calling for negotiations in accordance with inter-Korean agreements.

The North's announcement followed a report about three weeks ago that its leader Kim Jong-un had ordered the removal of the facilities from the resort, vowing to redevelop the area using the country's own resources. The North then asked the South to remove the assets from Geumgang, or it would demolish them.

Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the ultimatum, sent Nov. 11 to the South, carried a warning that if the South persist in its "useless assertion," the North will tear down the facilities unilaterally.

"We will develop Mount Geumgang to be the world renowned tourist resort as its owner for the sake of the nation and posterity," KCNA said. "There is no room for South Korea to find its place there."

The report said the "timetable" has been set, indicating that the North will keep ignoring dialogue offers from the South to go ahead with the redevelopment project without Seoul's participation.

If the North destroys the facilities at the Geumgang resort, it will prove again that North Korea is a risky place for investment. Given the symbolic meaning of the Mount Geumgang Resort for inter-Korean peace, the unilateral move raises doubts over the North's commitment to improving relations with the South.

It is also regrettable that North Korea doesn't think it is responsible for the protracted suspension of the tour project. It was suspended in 2008 after a female South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean guard there. But the North's has rejected requests from the South to come up with safety measures for tourists first before holding any talks on resuming the tour program.

More importantly, resuming tours to Mount Geumgang ― along with the reopening of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex ― will only be possible after they are exempted from international sanctions. The North knows this, but is accusing the South of dragging its feet in resuming the stalled inter-Korean economic projects. It is obvious that the quickest way for the North to restart the projects is to produce tangible results in its nuclear disarmament talks with the U.S.

In September last year, President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un agreed to normalize the two stalled inter-Korean projects "if conditions were met." Based on this, the South has consistently sought U.S. cooperation to ease sanctions for them to no avail.

It is notable that Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul will visit Washington next week possibly to discuss the stalled tour program. Hopefully, it will lead to positive changes in inter-Korean relations.
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