SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea is in the process of demolishing a South Korean-owned hotel at a North Korean resort that was one of the last symbols of inter-Korean engagement, according to Seoul officials who called on the North to stop “one-sided” destruction.
South Korea built dozens of facilities in North Korea’s Diamond Mountain resort to accommodate tourism from its citizens during a period of intense engagement between the rivals in the 1990s. But the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2019 called South Korean facilities “shabby” and ordered their destruction after months of frustration over Seoul’s unwillingness to defy US sanctions that have prevented touring from resuming.
The North has postponed demolition work to 2020 under strict COVID-19 prevention measures.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said on Friday that North Korea was demolishing the Haegumgang Hotel. The floating hotel, moored in a coastal area of the resort, was a major property among dozens of facilities created by South Korea to host Diamond Mountain tours, which began in 1998.
Unification Ministry spokesman Cha Deok-cheol said it was unclear whether the North was also destroying other facilities at the site. He said Seoul “strongly regrets North Korea’s unilateral dismantling of the hotel” and urged the North to engage in talks to resolve disagreements over South Korean properties at the site.
Commercial satellite images indicate that demolition work has been underway for weeks. Cha said Seoul used inter-Korean communication channels to demand an explanation and discussion on the issue, but the North ignored the request.
The demolition comes amid heightened tensions over recent missile launches. North Korea conducted its first intercontinental ballistic missile test since 2017 on March 24, as Kim relaunches a tightrope policy aimed at forcing the United States and other rivals to accept the North as a nuclear power and to remove crippling penalties.
South Korean tours at Diamond Mountain were a major symbol of cooperation between the Koreas and a valuable source of cash for the North’s shattered economy before the South suspended them in 2008 after a North Korean guard shot dead a South Korean tourist.
South Korea cannot restart mass touring at Diamond Mountain or any other major inter-Korean economic activity without defying sanctions, which have been tightened since 2016 when the North began ramping up nuclear and missile testing. Although the UN sanctions do not directly ban tourism, they do prohibit the mass money transfers that can result from such commercial activities.
During their brief diplomacy in 2018, South Korean President Moon Jae-in met with Kim three times and pledged to resume Diamond Mountain tours, expressing optimism that sanctions would end. But North Korea suspended cooperation with the South after diplomacy with the United States collapsed in 2019 and Seoul has been unable to wrest concessions from Washington on its behalf.