N.Korea Takes Chinese Diplomats on Mt. Kumgang Tour

      August 05, 2010 09:52

      North Korea apparently offered a tour to the Mt. Kumgang resort to some 20  Chinese embassy staff last month but did not tell South Korea's Hyundai Asan, which built the facilities there and has the exclusive right to run the tours. A Unification Ministry official said this was "a clear violation" of Hyundai's operating rights.

      According to the website of China's Foreign Ministry, the officials toured the scenic mountain resort for three days from July 21 at the invitation of North Korea's Foreign Ministry. The officials toured sites in Mt. Kumgang that require permission from Hyundai Asan. "The splendid peaks and strange rock formations of Manmulsang, the spectacular scenery of the Haekum River, the flowing waters of the Kuryong Falls... listening to the tour guide made us feel like we were in Shangri-La," a participant wrote. There is also a photo of them in front of the Kuryong Falls.

      Staff of the Chinese Embassy in North Korea pose for a group photo before a waterfall in Mt. Kumgang late in July. /Courtesy of the website of Chinese Foreign Ministry

      In 2000, Hyundai Asan paid US$500 million to North Korea for the exclusive right to operate seven projects in the North, including tours to Mt. Kumgang. But Hyundai Asan said it was unaware of the tour for the Chinese diplomats. "When our tourism operations ran smoothly, North Korea always informed us when they were bringing guests into Mt. Kumgang," a Hyundai Asan staffer said. "It's objectionable that they offered the tour without notifying us."

      In April, North Korea froze real estate in Mt. Kumgang belonging to Hyundai Asan and the South Korean government and said it would allow Chinese travel agencies to operate tours to the resort. When a number of Chinese travel agencies began offering tours, the South Korean government and Hyundai Asan protested, and in May Culture and Tourism Minister Yu In-chon sent an official letter to the Chinese government explaining that the freeze was a breach of contract and asked Beijing to take the resort off the list of travel destinations.

      "The fact that Chinese diplomats, who must have been aware of the delicate situation, visited Mt. Kumgang is simply puzzling," a South Korean official said.

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