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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
North Korea this week sent South Korea an “ultimatum” on its plans to demolish Southern-owned property at the Mount Kumgang tourist resort, the country’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Friday in an unattributed article.
The message, KCNA said, was sent on Monday after Pyongyang “repeatedly and clearly informed” South Korea of its “firm intentions” toward the site on October 29 and November 6.
The North on October 25 asked the South Korean Ministry of Unification (MOU) and Hyundai Asan — which owns significant property at the site — to send plans and a schedule for removing their facilities at the resort, and their agreement on these issues, “at the earliest possible time by exchanging documents.”
In a Korean-language article Friday, KCNA said Pyongyang’s repeated messages were delivered in response to Seoul’s stated desire to seek “creative solutions” and calls for working-level dialogue on the issue.
“We sent an ultimatum on November 11 that we will take resolute measures to unilaterally demolish facilities on the assumption that the South Korean authorities will abandon the demolition of the facilities [to us] if they continue to persist with futile assertions,” it said.
“The South Korean authorities have kept silent until today.”
The MOU later on Friday confirmed that “the North on November 11 re-requested the discussion of issues related to the removal of the facilities through the exchange of documents, indicating that this is the last warning.”
‘The government… will cope with the issue calmly in close consultation with business operators directly concerned with the Mount Kumgang tourism project,” MOU deputy spokesperson Kim Eun-han said during a regular briefing, stressing Seoul’s “consistent position that the two Koreas should handle the issue” through dialogue.
“We urge the North to respond to our stance to solve the issue of Mount Kumgang.”
When asked by NK News if the North had included the word “ultimatum” in its notice, the MOU declined to comment.
THE U.S. AND MOUNT KUMGANG
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last month visited the Mount Kumgang resort, ordering the removal of the “unpleasant-looking” South Korean-owned property in the area in consultation with the South.
In its article on Friday, KCNA said that it was now too late for the South Korean government to discuss Mount Kumgang tourism with the North, condemning Seoul for not taking any action when Pyongyang “opened the door [to dialogue] and waited.”
The South Korean government, it continued, “left Mount Kumgang facilities for around 10 years for fear of the U.S.”
“The South Korean authorities… are begging us for a place in the corner of the mountain and letting them in on the resumption of tourism, dismayed only after they are pressed by the sparks of demolition,” KCNA said.
“How should they be called: pitiful or brazen-faced?” it continued. “Under the circumstances of the set timetable, we cannot waste our time only exchanging notices.”
The KCNA article, which comes just a few days ahead of a planned visit by South Korean unification minister Kim Yeon-chul to the U.S., also criticized the minister’s travel plans.
South Korean politicians beset by “flunkeyism,” it said, are unable to “come to their senses even at a time like a light before the wind.”
It also criticized South Korean politicians who want the Mount Kumgang resort to be discussed as part of DPRK-U.S. negotiations, and who point to progress in denuclearization talks as a precondition for a “substantial discussion” on the issue.
“[They] even attempt to tell the inside story visiting the U.S., but the expression of master is only frigid.”
NO ROOM FOR SOUTH KOREA
Echoing the DPRK leader’s New Year’s speech, KCNA said the North “gave [the South] enough time and opportunity enduring heavy damage and showed the magnanimity of compatriotic feelings, including permission to resume Mount Kumgang tourism without any preconditions and in return for nothing.”
The South, however, had “lost all its good opportunities and brought itself into pitiable circumstances being at its wit’s end.”
“From the start, the issue of developing the new Mount Kumgang tourism and cultural zone was no concern of the South Korean authorities, and they have already been disqualified.”
The South, it continued, “must be aware that the North showed its final magnanimity” by taking into account inter-Korean relations of the past and allowing them to demolish their “properties” themselves.
“The South Korean authorities should immediately comply with our demand, keeping in mind that they will no longer have any place to complain if they lose this [chance].”
Mount Kumgang, KCNA asserted, is neither “common property of the North and the South nor the symbolic location of North-South reconciliation and cooperation.”
“We will be the owner and responsible for proudly developing Mount Kumgang as a world-renowned cultural tourist spot in our own way,” KCNA said.
“There is no room for South Korea to interfere.”
During its Friday briefing, the MOU deputy spokesperson admitted to a “difference in position” between the two Koreas over Mount Kumgang resort.
North Korea has insisted on discussing the issue through an exchange of documents, while Seoul has argued that there needs to be a visit by a joint inspection team of officials and businesspeople.
One North Korea Watcher said Friday’s article, while tough, “does not appear to be a policy announcement terminating South Korea’s role in Mt. Kumgang.”
“Rather, it seems aimed at mounting pressure on Seoul to strengthen its bargaining chip and maximize its gain following Hyundai Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun’s meeting with the unification ministry yesterday, and on the eve of the unification minister’s planned trip to the U.S.,” Rachel Minyoung Lee, senior analyst with NK News‘s sister site NK Pro, said.
“Furthermore, the North used a low-level media vehicle, an unattributed KCNA article, to convey the message,” Lee said.
“In the past, the North has used official pronouncements of relevant state- or party-run institutions to convey to South Korea its announcements or decisions related to Mt. Kumgang.”
Edited by James Fretwell and Oliver Hotham