North Korean leader Kim Jong Un criticized the dependent policy carried out by his predecessors and ordered the removal of South Korean facilities at the Mount Kumgang tourist resort, Pyongyang’s state-run daily, Rodong Sinmun, reported Wednesday. Kim even sneered at the South Korea-built facilities by calling them “unpleasant-looking shabby facilities,” breaking the promise he made in his New Year’s address to “resume Mount Kumgang tourism and reopen Kaesong industrial complex without any conditions.”
It is unusual for Kim to criticize his predecessors for carrying out policies dependent on South Korea. Under the dynastic rule of the Kim family, it is unprecedented for the North Korean leader to question his late father’s key policy. Kim’s remarks appeared to be intended to blame the U.S. and South Korea for the stalled U.S.-North Korea nuclear negotiations, which left a slim chance for a sanctions relief. It is also part of North Korea’s brinkmanship tactics aimed at showing Kim Jong Un’s determination that he is not afraid to reverse his predecessors’ policies if South Korea fails to accept his demands.
It is brazen for Kim Jong Un to make such remarks. The Mount Kumgang tour project began in 1988 along with the late Hyundai Group founder and Honorary Chairman Chung Ju-yung’s visit to North Korea, taking a batch of cattle as a gift to the North. The tours to Mt. Kumgang, however, were suspended in July 2008, when a female South Korean tourist named Park Wang-ja was shot dead by a North Korean soldier. The resumption of the tour program became further unlikely when a North Korean torpedo sank South Korean navy ship Cheonan in March 2010, invoking sanctions against North Korea known as the May 24 measures. It is absurd for North Korea to shift the responsibility for not resuming the tour program to South Korea when it has not apologized nor promised to prevent recurrence of similar events.
Another reason that is holding back the resumption of Mt. Kumgang tourism is North Korea’s refusal to give up its nuclear weapons. United Nations sanctions on North Korea cannot be lifted unless the North makes sincere efforts to abandon its nuclear weapons. Mt. Kumgang tourism cannot be resumed under this circumstance. South Korea’s National Intelligence Service recently reported to the National Assembly that the resumption of Mt. Kumgang tourism could violate the UN Security Council Resolutions on North Korea that limits “bulk cash” transfers to North Korea.
Kim Jong Un’s order to remove South Korean facilities at Mt. Kumgang resort runs counter to the spirits of both the Panmunjom Declaration and the Pyongyang Declaration. It is also considered a negative reaction to South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s parliament speech on Wednesday in which he stressed the need for “peace economy” between both Koreas. South Korean presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said Wednesday that Kim’s order to remove South Korean facilities at Mt. Kumgang resort is a positive signal that left room for negotiation but later retracted its comment. Such attitude would only make the North more devious. The two Koreas would not be able to work on a joint project that requires mutual trust if the North acts unreasonably by unilaterally removing facilities built by the South. South Korea should make it clear to North Korea that the North will be held accountable if it destroys facilities built by the South and the only way to resume the tour program is for the North to make sincere efforts toward denuclearization. South Korea’s tolerance to North Korea’s blackmailing and absurd remarks has just worsened the latter’s arrogance.