Kim’s wooing of investors and slow-walk on nukes bares rift

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un smiles during his visit to the under construction Orangchon Power Station in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang July 17, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 09 November 2018
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Kim’s wooing of investors and slow-walk on nukes bares rift

  • Visitors from the South were allowed only day trips or visits of a few days
  • Moon’s seeming readiness to scale back sanctions even before Pyongyang takes major steps to denuclearize is raising red flags in Washington

MOUNT KUMGANG, North Korea: The two-lane highway south from North Korea’s Mount Kumgang into and across the Demilitarized Zone is lined by tall green fences and street lamps that are only turned on for special occasions. Children play on a parallel stretch of railroad that hasn’t been in regular use since before they were born. Behind a solitary guard stands a sign saying it’s 68 kilometers (40 miles) to Sokcho, a town just across the DMZ in South Korea.
At the height of South Korea’s policy of engagement with the North, the “Diamond Mountain Resort” area was a symbol of cooperation. More than 2 million South Korean tourists came to visit and some of the South’s biggest corporations poured more than a billion dollars into what they hoped would be a world-class travel destination.
Today it’s almost deserted.
A decade after the North-South experiment in cooperation on Kumgang ended in bitter failure, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in want to give it another try. By the end of the year they hope to begin working on opening this stretch of road and rail.
The push to jointly develop Kumgang is a direct challenge to Washington’s policy of maintaining sanctions and “maximum pressure” until Pyongyang gives up its nuclear arsenal.
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Chrystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling of the Kumgangsan Hotel, where a handful of North Korean tourists in Adidas sweatsuits gathers to catch a bus up the mountain. Elaborate murals of mountain scenery cover the walls of its second floor. In the cavernous lobby, there’s a souvenir shop, a white concert piano on a stage beside billiard and pingpong tables and a well-stocked bar. There’s a theater and a karaoke room.
The hotel is eerily silent, the quiet broken only by the occasional laughter of the local tourists and some scattered Chinese groups.
Built in the 1990s with hundreds of millions of dollars of South Korean investment, mostly from a branch of the Hyundai Group, the resort was in its heyday an oasis of luxury, with conga lines and Filipino lounge bands. Its 10 hotels featured opulent fixtures and oil paintings framed in gold. Guests had the run of an 18-hole golf course, now closed, and a hot springs spa, which remains open and popular with North Koreans. Today, the resort’s main role is to be the official venue for reunions of families divided by the 1950-53 Korean War.
The Kumgang project was troubled from its outset, when it opened to South Koreans in 1998.
Visitors from the South were allowed only day trips or visits of a few days. Initially they were brought in by ferry to minimize chances to see the North’s countryside or interact with its people. Later, they were allowed in on buses through the DMZ, with the curtains drawn until they had arrived.
The resort drew only a fraction of the 500,000 tourists projected to come annually. Within a few years of its opening, it was hemorrhaging money.
Its fate was sealed in July 2008, when a North Korean soldier shot dead tourist Park Wang-ja, a 53-year-old housewife from Seoul, after she allegedly wandered into a restricted area on a beach on the resort’s fringes. Seoul quickly suspended all travel to Kumgang. In 2011, the North announced it was seizing all assets and taking back control of all real estate rights.
The Hyundai affiliate is believed to have lost more than a billion dollars. Its Kumgang office sits padlocked and unoccupied near an arena that once housed a circus.
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From their first summit in April, reopening the road and railway across the DMZ to Kumgang has been a top priority for Moon and Kim.
Moon has helped bring Kim out of the cold. He wants to expand economic ties with the North to build trust and defuse tensions, creating conditions for Kim to dismantle his nuclear arsenal. He also hopes to reopen another “Sunshine” era symbol, the jointly operated Kaesong industrial complex on the North’s side of the DMZ.
At their third summit, in September, Kim and Moon formalized Mount Kumgang’s role as the reunion venue, agreeing to “promptly restore the facility toward this end.” Their joint statement included plans for a ground-breaking ceremony for work to reopen cross-border railways and roads, including the ones near Kumgang, by the year’s end and to “normalize” the Kaesong industrial complex and Mount Kumgang tourism projects when the time is ripe.
Moon’s seeming readiness to scale back sanctions even before Pyongyang takes major steps to denuclearize is raising red flags in Washington. Such concerns spiked when South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha suggested Seoul might lift unilateral sanctions it imposed after an 2010 attack on a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors.
Trump’s response was quick and, to many Koreans, deeply insulting.
“They won’t do that without our approval,” he said. “They do nothing without our approval.”
Lim Soo-ho of the Seoul-based Institute for National Security said it’s all but impossible for South Korea to resume joint tours to Kumgang, operations at the Kaesong joint factory park or any other form of economic cooperation under the current international sanctions, which have strengthened significantly since 2016. Washington’s own sanctions against Pyongyang restrict an even broader range of economic activities and target a larger list of companies and individuals.
South Korea will never abandon the Kumgang joint tours or Kaesong factory park because they are such powerful symbols of inter-Korean cooperation, Lim said. But a less risky business environment for southern companies is needed, perhaps with a free trade agreement that would bring inter-Korean economic activities closer to global standards.
For now, ground-breaking ceremonies for projects not yet started are the best Seoul and Pyongyang can manage.
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A special permit is required to get to the beach from the base of the mountains.
Winding through freshly harvested farmland, the rice still spread out on the roadsides to dry, travelers come to an imposing checkpoint manned by armed soldiers. A tall, electrified fence marks the entrance into the DMZ.
Pae Un Sim was a child during Kumgang’s boom years.
Leading the way down a gravel path to the rugged beach where the South Korean housewife was killed, she recalls meeting a tourist who said he once told everyone Yosemite National Park in the United States was the most beautiful mountain scenery in the world. He had to revise that after seeing the Alps, and again after seeing Kumgang.
The sun is setting. Lights along the North-South demarcation line can be seen flickering in the hills.
Pae stops to point to the ocean.
“If you look between those two little islands, you can see the South,” she said. “There used to be so many tourists. It was very lively.”
Asked about her impressions of the South Koreans who came to visit or her hopes for the future, she hesitated. Those topics are still perhaps too sensitive and too political to discuss freely. After some thought she voiced a commonly heard refrain.
“We Koreans are one people,” she said. “It is our common wish to be reunited.”


Tijuana protesters chant ‘Out!’ at migrants camped in city

Updated 40 min 43 sec ago
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Tijuana protesters chant ‘Out!’ at migrants camped in city

  • The migrants’ expected long stay in Tijuana has raised concerns about the ability of the border city of more than 1.6 million people to handle the influx
TIJUANA, Mexico: Hundreds of Tijuana residents congregated around a monument in an affluent section of the city south of California on Sunday to protest the thousands of Central American migrants who have arrived via caravan in hopes of a new life in the US
Tensions have built as nearly 3,000 migrants from the caravan poured into Tijuana in recent days after more than a month on the road, and with many more months ahead of them while they seek asylum. The federal government estimates the number of migrants could soon swell to 10,000.
US border inspectors are processing only about 100 asylum claims a day at Tijuana’s main crossing to San Diego. Asylum seekers register their names in a tattered notebook managed by migrants themselves that had more than 3,000 names even before the caravan arrived.
On Sunday, displeased Tijuana residents waved Mexican flags, sang the Mexican national anthem and chanted “Out! Out!” in front of a statue of the Aztec ruler Cuauhtemoc, 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) from the US border. They accused the migrants of being messy, ungrateful and a danger to Tijuana. They also complained about how the caravan forced its way into Mexico, calling it an “invasion.” And they voiced worries that their taxes might be spent to care for the group.
“We don’t want them in Tijuana,” protesters shouted.
Juana Rodriguez, a housewife, said the government needs to conduct background checks on the migrants to make sure they don’t have criminal records.
A woman who gave her name as Paloma lambasted the migrants, who she said came to Mexico in search of handouts. “Let their government take care of them,” she told video reporters covering the protest.
A block away, fewer than a dozen Tijuana residents stood with signs of support for the migrants. Keyla Zamarron, a 38-year-old teacher, said the protesters don’t represent her way of thinking as she held a sign saying: Childhood has no borders.
Most of the migrants who have reached Tijuana via caravan in recent days set out more than a month ago from Honduras, a country of 9 million people. Dozens of migrants in the caravan who have been interviewed by Associated Press reporters have said they left their country after death threats.
But the journey has been hard, and many have turned around.
Alden Rivera, the Honduran ambassador in Mexico, told the AP on Saturday that 1,800 Hondurans have returned to their country since the caravan first set out on Oct. 13, and that he hopes more will make that decision. “We want them to return to Honduras,” said Rivera.
Honduras has a murder rate of 43 per 100,000 residents, similar to US cities like New Orleans and Detroit. In addition to violence, migrants in the caravan have mentioned poor economic prospects as a motivator for their departures. Per capita income hovers around $120 a month in Honduras, where the World Bank says two out of three people live in poverty.
The migrants’ expected long stay in Tijuana has raised concerns about the ability of the border city of more than 1.6 million people to handle the influx.
While many in Tijuana are sympathetic to the migrants’ plight and trying to assist, some locals have shouted insults, hurled rocks and even thrown punches at them. The cold reception contrasts sharply with the warmth that accompanied the migrants in southern Mexico, where residents of small towns greeted them with hot food, campsites and even live music.
Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum has called the migrants’ arrival an “avalanche” that the city is ill-prepared to handle, calculating that they will be in Tijuana for at least six months as they wait to file asylum claims. Gastelum has appealed to the federal government for more assistance to cope with the influx.
Mexico’s Interior Ministry said Saturday that the federal government was flying in food and blankets for the migrants in Tijuana.
Tijuana officials converted a municipal gymnasium and recreational complex into a shelter to keep migrants out of public spaces. The city’s privately run shelters have a maximum capacity of 700. The municipal complex can hold up to 3,000.
At the municipal shelter, Josue Caseres, 24, expressed dismay at the protests against the caravan. “We are fleeing violence,” said the entertainer from Santa Barbara, Honduras. “How can they think we are going to come here to be violent?“
Some from the caravan have diverted to other border cities, such as Mexicali, a few hours to the east of Tijuana.
Elsewhere on Sunday, a group of 200 migrants headed north from El Salvador, determined to also find safety in numbers to reach the US Edwin Alexander Gomez, 20, told AP in San Salvador that he wants to work construction in New York, where he hears the wages are better and the city is safer.
US President Donald Trump, who sought to make the caravan a campaign issue in the midterm elections, used Twitter on Sunday to voice support for the mayor of Tijuana and try to discourage the migrants from seeking entry to the US
Trump wrote that like Tijuana, “the US is ill-prepared for this invasion, and will not stand for it. They are causing crime and big problems in Mexico. Go home!“
He followed that tweet by writing: “Catch and Release is an obsolete term. It is now Catch and Detain. Illegal Immigrants trying to come into the USA., often proudly flying the flag of their nation as they ask for US Asylum, will be detained or turned away.”