SEOUL, January 25 (Reuters) – North Korea on Thursday announced a new "world-class" tourism project in the coastal province of Kangwon, a statement that coincides with the plans for the Olympic Winter Games to host South Korea to participate in joint sports and cultural events in the area.
The announcement looks set to take advantage of international advertising before next month's Games in Pyeongchang by boosting tourism in North Korea, one of the areas of economic activity that has yet to be totally stifled by international sanctions against Pyongyang nuclear weapons programs.
"When the tourist zone is built, it will satisfy the demand of national and foreign tourists and it will be the most ideal place to connect various tourist destinations to the international tourist area of Wonsan-Mt Kumgang", the KCNA of North Korea news agency said in a statement.
The statement did not provide details of the complex, but described the geographical characteristics of the area, including a "famous sandy beach," and said the project would put the country's tourism "globally."
This week, South Korean officials traveled to the Wonsan area to inspect facilities at the Masik Pass ski resort and the nearby Kalma airport, which has yet to see international flights two years after its opening in September 2015
As As part of the unity activities surrounding the Olympic Games, the two countries agreed to joint ski training at Masik Pass and a cultural event at Mount Kumgang.
South Korea's offer to send a delegation to resorts threatens to give legitimacy to leader Kim Jong Un's regime and much-needed money, say defectors and North Korean experts.
Critics are already facing plans to march under a unity flag and a combined team of Korean ice hockey, the administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in may be subjected to further pressure if it is seen to approve the breakaway from Kim's luxury in the North East Coast of Korea
The Wonsan and Kalma airports are also important defense areas, used for large-scale artillery exercises and as the launch site for dozens of missile tests in recent years .
In April of last year, for example, Kim used the beach near the new Wonsan airport to unleash an artillery drill described by state media as the largest in the country.
Experts say that tourism is an important part of Kim's plans to boost North Korea's economy. It is one of an increasingly smaller range of North Korean cash sources that are not specifically subject to international sanctions.
Joint ventures with the state are prohibited, however, which hinders the attraction of international investment in the tourism industry of North Korea.
Last year, the United States banned its citizens from visiting North Korea and there are no up-to-date statistics on current visitors.
China said more than 237,000 Chinese visited in 2012 but stopped publishing statistics in 2013. By comparison, eight million Chinese visited South Korea in 2016. (Josh Smith Report, Nick Macfie Edition)