Tour of Mount Paekdu emerges as inter-Korean cooperation project
SEOUL, Sept. 20 (Yonhap) -- The highly symbolic visit to North Korea's Mount Paekdu by the leaders of the two Koreas on Thursday is likely to add momentum to future inter-Korean economic cooperation involving the highest mountain on the Korean Peninsula.
South and North Korea are expected to push for South Korean tourists to visit the 2,744-meter-high mountain, revered by the Korean people as their mythic origin, if the North's denuclearization makes progress and international sanctions are eased, watchers say.
Tours of Mount Paekdu, if realized, will likely gain enormous popularity among South Koreans, along with the tour of Mount Kumgang on the North's eastern coast, which was halted in July 2008 after a tourist's death, they said. The Mount Kumgang tour, launched in November 1998, drew 1.96 million tourists from South Korea before its suspension in 2008.
At present, South Korean tourists climb Mount Paekdu from the Chinese side.
Photos of South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un standing together on the top of Mount Paekdu next to Cheonji Lake are also expected to help promote the North Korean mountain as a tourist destination to the entire world, the watchers noted.
Indeed, Moon told Kim at the mountain that he believes there will come a time when ordinary people of the South can make sightseeing trips to Mount Paekdu.
In response, Kim said, "Though a small number of people came here today, (more) people from the South and overseas should come see Mount Paekdu."
The two leaders' remarks indicate that they have already reached a consensus on the need to launch a Mount Paekdu tour program for South Korean people.
The two Koreas already reached an agreement on South Koreans' tour of Paekdu during a summit in October 2007 between then-President Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Jong-il, the deceased father of the incumbent leader. At that time, South and North Korea agreed to open a direct air route between Seoul and Mount Paekdu. Earlier in 2005, Hyundai Asan, the South Korean operator of the Mount Kumgang tour program, and the Korean Tourism Organization agreed with the North to jointly push for a Mount Paekdu tour program and helped in the modernization of Samjiyon Airport, the gateway to the mountain.
After conservatives took power in South Korea, however, the Paekdu tour program didn't make further progress.
The North's leader Kim has made steady efforts to develop the Mount Paekdu area into an international tourist destination in recent years.
Kim and his wife Ri Sol-ju visited the Paekdu area twice this summer and called for efforts to develop the mountain into an alpine culture city.
In 2015, the North announced the creation of the Mubong International Special Tourist Zone at the foot of the mountain.
Foreign tourists have recently been allowed to camp and hike Mount Paekdu for the first time.
Source: Yonhap News Agency