N.Korea Turns to Sports, Tourism for Hard Currency

      November 13, 2013 10:23

      The North Korean regime has been pouring huge sums into the construction of exclusive sports and recreational facilities for the rich in Pyongyang and major cities in the provinces.

      Leader Kim Jong-un has inspected sports-related facilities 25 times so far this year, including the new Mirim Riding Club that opened in Pyongyang on Oct. 20. That was more than three times the visits he made to similar facilities last year.

      An outdoor ice rink and a roller skating rink in Pyongyang last year was completed last year, and the Rungna People's Sports Park, Pyongyang Gymnasium, and Mirim Riding Club this year.

      Back in July, two new hotels opened in Wonsan, Kangwon Province. The Kalma Hotel has 58 bedrooms and the Saenal Hotel accommodates about 200 guests on 18 floors. A ski resort is under construction in Masikryong in Wonsan.

      Since Kim took power, the regime has focused on recreational facilities with an eye on earning hard currency from tourism.

      In April, the regime hawked a four-day tour program to watch a marathon as part of anniversary celebrations for nation founder Kim Il-sung. There were also a cycling tour around the border region of Rajin-Sonbong for two days for 1,500 yuan, and a three-day amateur golf championship for foreigners for 999 euros.

      Koryo Tour, the Chinese travel agency specializing in North Korea tours, is selling a package that includes a night at the notorious mass calisthenics performance "Arirang," tours of downtown Pyongyang including the Kumsusan Palace; trips to the truce village of Panmunjom and the demilitarized zone, Mts. Baekdu and Chilbo.

      "The North is promoting sports to boost a dynamic image of the young leader and make him popular among the new moneyed elite as well as to earn hard currency," a South Korean government official speculated.

      But defectors say many ordinary North Koreans are angry that the regime is squandering money on frivolities while failing to end chronic food shortages.

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