Hyundai Asan pins high hopes for resumption of inter-Korean tour program

SEOUL-- Hyundai Asan Corp., the local operator of a suspended inter-Korean tour program, on Wednesday expressed hope that chilly relations with North Korea will improve following the election of liberal and engagement-focused new President Moon Jae-in.

The company anticipated that better inter-Korean ties can permit the resumption of the long-halted inter-Korean tour program during Moon's term in office.

The newly elected chief executive has vowed to restore engagement with North Korea, although he conditioned that the North should first freeze its nuclear and missile tests. On the campaign trail, Moon vowed to seek a dual-track approach of pushing denuclearization and dialogue with Pyongyang.

On July 12, 2008, South Korea suspended tours to Mount Kumgang in the reclusive country when a North Korean soldier shot and killed a female tourist.

Hyundai Asan kicked off a joint tour program in 1998, which was a symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation, that attracted some 2 million South Korean visitors until it was put on hold due to the shooting incident.

"We expect the new government to create a mood for dialogue with the North... and we will get ready till things become more favorable for the resumption of the inter-Korean tour projects," said a Hyundai Asan official.

Hyundai Asan claimed that it has suffered a loss of 1.07 trillion won in revenue over the past nine years, but the losses could snowball to some 1.5 trillion won when damages incurred on subcontractors are counted.

Pyongyang has called for the resumption of the tour program, which once served as one of the few legitimate revenue sources for the cash-strapped country. But Seoul has demanded that the North unveil measures to guarantee the safety of South Korean tourists to prevent similar tragedies from occurring.

The issue of resuming the Mount Kumgang tour program is linked to whether cash earnings from the tour project are subject to United Nations sanctions on North Korea.

Following the North's third nuclear test in 2013, the U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions on North Korea that bans the transfer of bulk cash to the North on concerns that such money could be used to develop its nuclear and missile programs.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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