Could North Korea resurrect its brand of military tourism?

Schoolchildren play in the water at Songdowon International Children’s Camp in Wonsan City, North Korea. Source: Reuters

NORTH KOREA’S Wonsan Resort is just one example of the state combining military and tourism.

In 1998, Seoul and Pyongyang agreed to open part of the current Wonsan zone – called Mount Kumgang – to tourists, and served as a symbol of cooperation and hard currency for the North, Reuters reported.

According to South Korean government figures, nearly two million Southerners visited the area over a decade, most of whom would go hiking in the countryside.

However, in 2008, a North Korean soldier shot dead a 53-year-old South Korean woman who had wandered across a forbidden line into a military area.

Since then, South Korea suspended all tours and businessmen who ran souvenir shops and restaurants in the zone lost their assets to North Korea.

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Seoul demanded an investigation, an apology from the North, and assurances that no such thing would happen again. Pyongyang refused and has threatened to end South Korean companies’ exclusive rights to run tours.

Lee Jong-heung, who managed a brewery, a restaurant and duty-free shops, says he invested around US$6 million in Kumgang. He visited in 2013, and said he found the North was “running the shops, my shops, for tourists from China and Hong Kong… it was preposterous.”

South Korea’s Unification Ministry has said safety guarantees for South Koreans are among the changes needed before it will consider restarting the tours.

Here’s are snapshots of Wonsan from the past decade: