SEOUL, South Korea – President Moon Jae-in of South Korea on Tuesday called for economic exchanges with North Korea, including allowing visits there by South Korean tourists, to help ease tensions and encourage the North to resume talks with the United States
North Korea has already said that it would welcome tourists from the South, as the heavily sanctioned country seeks new ways to earn foreign exchange. Tourism is one of the few industries in North Korea that is not covered by the sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council and Washington to squeeze the North’s ability to earn foreign exchange.
The leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, recently stated that his country no longer expected any progress in the stalled negotiations with Washington on how to denuclearize the North or the lifting of United Nations sanctions led by the United States. He said his country would rebuild its economy without the help of relief from the sanctions imposed on the weapons programs of the North.
To increase tourism, North Korea has recently opened waterfront resorts or ski and spa complexes, all built in part to attract tourist cash from abroad, mainly China.
During a nationwide televised press conference on Tuesday, Moon, a tireless advocate of the dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington, said it was too early to lose hope in negotiations between North Korea and the United States. One way to help revive diplomacy is to increase economic cooperation and exchanges between North Korea and South Korea as an incentive for the North to return to the negotiating table, Moon said.
“The South and North should not only look at the dialogue between North Korea and the United States, but should increase cooperation between North Korea and South Korea a bit as a way to accelerate the dialogue between North Korea and the United States “said Moon. “There are things that the South and the North can easily do. For example, tourism programs, especially individual tourists, are something we can investigate because they are not prohibited by international sanctions. “
Under United Nations sanctions, countries cannot buy coal, iron ore, textiles, fish and other key export items from the North. But foreign tourists can visit North Korea.
But the last South Korean tourists visited the North in 2008, when Seoul He retired from an inter-Korean tourist town on Diamond Mountain, or Kumgang, just north of the inter-Korean border. The complex was inaugurated in 1998 and, until it was closed in a dispute over the shooting death of a South Korean tourist, it served as an important source of foreign exchange for the North, who was hungry, and which frequently housed South Korean tourist groups.
In October, North Korea He said he would rebuild the abandoned city long ago alone after demolishing “shabby” hotels and other facilities built by South Korea there. But Mr. Kim said that the North “will always welcome our compatriots from the South if they want to come to Mount Kumgang, after it is wonderfully built as the tourist destination worldwide.”
Moon has long argued that the United States should offer incentives, including the reduction of sanctions, in exchange for concrete measures that North Korea would take towards denuclearization. When he met with Kim in April and September 2018, Moon presented bold plans for inter-Korean economic cooperation, including the reopening of the Diamond Mountain resort and rebuilding the decrepit railroads in the North.
But such visions remain in plan form only while the country still faces sanctions that prohibit all major international investments in the North.
Kim and President Trump met in Vietnam in February 2019 for a second summit meeting, but separated without an agreement on how fast North Korea should dismantle its nuclear programs and how soon Washington should lift the sanctions.
North Korea’s attitude turned cold towards Washington. It has also begun to despise Seoul’s efforts to facilitate dialogue between the North and the United States, calling them “presumptuous.”
Despite such ridicule, Moon said Tuesday that his government would not abandon its efforts. He said South Korea would seek US cooperation to make inter-Korean exchanges exempt from sanctions, and Washington remains wary of granting such exemptions, fearing they may weaken an international resolution to enforce sanctions in the North.
In his last messages, North Korea and Mr. Kim He did not completely abandon dialogue with Washington, although they vaguely threatened to show “new strategic weapons” and abandon a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests, Moon said.
But Moon warned that the time for diplomacy was running out quickly, as Trump was expected to focus more on his re-election campaign in the coming months.
“I think neither North Korea nor the United States has much free time,” he said.