Three days after the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's top leader, Kim Jong-un, ordered the removal of the Republic of Korea-built facilities at its Mount Kumgang resort, Seoul offered to hold working-level talks with Pyongyang, in a bid to retain its influence at the tourist site and keep up the momentum of inter-Korean cooperation.
The ROK's Unification Ministry spokesman Lee Sang-min told a news briefing on Monday that his government and Hyundai Asan Corp, which funded the Mount Kumgang project, sent notices earlier in the day to their DPRK counterparts through the inter-Korean liaison office in the DPRK's border town of Kaesong。
In the notices, the ROK proposed working-level talks with the DPRK to discuss the halted tours to the site. The DPRK did not immediately respond to the ROK's proposal.
The tours by ROK citizens to Mount Kumgang, launched in 1998, were once a symbol of cross-border engagement amid often-fraught relations. And families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War have held several reunions there. However, the tours were suspended after a female tourist from the ROK was shot dead in 2008 by a DPRK soldier after allegedly venturing into off-limit areas, Xinhua News Agency reported.
The ROK's dialogue offer came three days after Kim ordered the destruction of the ROK-built facilities at Mount Kumgang, saying they were "shabby" and "unpleasant-looking", the DPRK's official Korean Central News Agency reported, adding that Pyongyang would propose an exchange of documents to work out the details。
Lee also said at the briefing that resolving all inter-Korean issues through dialogue and consultations was an unwavering government stance of the ROK. And he said Seoul would seek "creative ways" to resolve the Mount Kumgang issue considering the international situation, progress in inter-Korean relations and public sentiment.
Asked whether the United States was consulted on the issue, Lee said the notice was not related to DPRK-US interactions, though he said denuclearization and a lasting peace settlement should be achieved through close cooperation between Seoul and Washington. And he added that the ROK does not consult with the US on all inter-Korean issues.
Li Nan, an associate research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said DPRK's remarks to destroy ROK's facilities at Mount Kumgang could be an expression of its frustration at the stalled inter-Korean relations and a bid to put pressure on Seoul to resume the tours.
After the breakdown of the second summit between the DPRK and the US earlier this year, Pyongyang was disappointed with Seoul's role as an intermediary, Li said, adding that Pyongyang hoped Seoul, which is seen by the DPRK as an important "courier" to send messages to Washington, could play a more important and proactive role in promoting the development of the Korean Peninsula.
Pyongyang has called for the restart of the tours since it entered nuclear diplomacy with Washington and Seoul last year. But Seoul cannot revive tours to the mountain or the massive stalled inter-Korean economic projects as international sanctions remain in place.