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Kim Jong Un tours new North Korean 'socialist' spa resort

By Thomas Maresca
Kim Jong Un tours new North Korean 'socialist' spa resort
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un toured a new, under-construction spa resort in the country's South Pyongan Province. Photo courtesy of Yonhap/KCNA

SEOUL, Oct. 25 (UPI) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited a spa resort under construction in the country's South Pyongan Province, expressing "great satisfaction" at developments there and praising its "socialist" architecture, state media reported Friday.

The Yangdok County Hot Spring Resort, located in a mountainous area east of the capital city of Pyongyang, will feature therapeutic hot springs and spas, ski slopes and a hotel and has been touted in North Korean media for several months as a key development project.

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"[Kim Jong Un] expressed his great satisfaction over the fact that the resort is being successfully completed though it has been just over 50 days since he inspected the construction site late in August," state-run Korean Central News Agency reported.

Kim added that the resort would be a model for developing other "cultural and tourist bases throughout the country" in "our style, Korean-style construction."

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The North Korean leader compared the site to the Mount Kumgang tourist area, which he visited on Wednesday and ordered the removal of all the "unpleasant-looking" facilities that had been built by South Korea.

Kim called the new Yangdok resort a "striking contrast" to Mount Kumgang and said it was an "illustration of the fundamental difference between the architecture of capitalist businesses targeting profit-making" and "socialist architecture embodying the desire and aspiration of the working people," KCNA reported.

Mount Kumgang was opened as a joint tourism project between North and South Korea in 1998 but it closed in 2008 after a tourist was shot to death by a North Korean guard.

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During his visit to the Mount Kumgang site earlier this week, Kim made the rare move of criticizing the policies of his father, Kim Jong Il, for relying too heavily on South Korea when developing the tourism area.

"[Kim Jong Un] made a sharp criticism of the very wrong, dependent policy of the predecessors who were going to rely on others when the country was not sufficient enough," KCNA reported.

On that visit, Kim implied that Mount Kumgang tourism would be handled alone by North Korea moving forward.

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"We will always welcome our compatriots from the South if they want to come to Mount Kumgang after it is wonderfully built as the world-level tourist destination," Kim said, according to KCNA, but added that "it is not desirable to let the South side undertake the tour of Mount Kumgang, our famous mountain."

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un had agreed to resume Mount Kumgang tourism last September, but that project has stalled, as have plans to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Zone, a joint manufacturing area that was shuttered in 2016.

Inter-Korean economic projects, held out by Seoul as a key driver for bringing peace to the Korean Peninsula, have been hampered by continued economic sanctions on North Korea. Nuclear negotiations between North Korea and the United States remain at a stalemate since a February summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un ended abruptly without an agreement.

A working-level meeting on Oct. 5 in Stockholm, the first official talks since Trump briefly met Kim at the inter-Korean border in the DMZ in late June, broke down in hours with the North Korean side complaining that the United States remained inflexible.

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