South Korea is appealing to the United States to approve the resumption of cross-border tours to North Korea ’s scenic Mount Kumgang , asserting this would not compromise international sanctions on Pyongyang and in fact improve ties with it. The Mount Kumgang resort is one of two projects – the other being the now-defunct joint industrial park in the North’s Kaesong City – seen as symbol of Korean unification, but the North’s leader Kim Jong-un recently threatened to dismantle Seoul-funded facilities in the resort. South Korea’s Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul visited Washington earlier this month to urge the US to allow tours to resume, while more than half of the members of South Korea’s 300-seat parliament have passed a resolution to that effect and a public campaign to collect 10 million signatures has been launched. In a briefing to foreign journalists on Tuesday, Governor Choi Moon-soon of Gangwon Province near Mount Kumgang said the resumption of tours would ensure “a breakthrough in stalled diplomatic negotiations between the North and the United States as well as break the impasse in inter-Korean ties”. Resuming the tours, which the North Korean leader has indicated he is open to, “would help lead the North to the path of reform and openness”, said Choi, whose province lies on the border between North and South Korea. Kim Jong-un this week said the resort’s buildings resembled those at “construction sites” and that Pyongyang should build “new modern service facilities our own way”. Mount Kumgang, on the east coast of the Korean peninsula, is not subject to UN Security Council sanctions on nuclear-armed North Korea, but Washington has previously voiced concerns that Pyongyang was using foreign currency earned there to pay for its weapons arsenal. South Korea refuses to pay US$5 billion to cover cost of US troops, causing talks to break down The resort opened in 1998 as a symbol of cooperation between the two rivals but the South pulled the plug on it in 2008 when a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier after straying into an off-limits area. Choi said some 1.2 million Chinese tourists reportedly visited the North last year, many of them taking a trip to the Mount Kumgang resort. But South Korea’s Unification Ministry said that figure looked exaggerated, citing North Korea’s official report putting the number of Chinese tourists in 2018 at 200,000. US bid for Seoul to keep intelligence-sharing pact with Tokyo stalls Attendees at Tuesday’s briefing included officials and business leaders who stressed the economic impact of the failure to resume tours, and gave assurances that Pyongyang was not benefiting from tourism dollars. Mayor Lee Kyung-il of Goseong County, the starting point for the tours, said 400 shops had been shut and the 27,000 residents of the county had suffered a cumulative loss of US$330 million over the past 10 years since the tours were stopped. “As the window is closing and time is ticking, we must grab this last chance to resume tours to Mount Kumgang,” Lee said. Kim Jong-un orders demolition of South Korean-built resort South Korean companies had lost US$1.34 billion from invested assets and licences, according to Korea Culture and Tourism Institute. Shin Yang-soo, who assists South Korean businesses with investment exposure in Kumgang, denied allegations that the South had been “shovelling money” to the North through the tours. “Only one tenth of the money South Koreans spent for the tours dropped into North Korean hands … There was nothing like some bulk cash changing hands,” he said. Before the tours were stopped, 1.95 million South Koreans visited Mount Kumgang. They paid between US$30 to 80 per person as an “admission charge” to the North and spent money on buying souvenirs. “There was absolutely nothing else that went to the North,” Shin stressed. South Koreans only used hotels and other facilities built there by South Korea’s Hyundai Asan at the cost of 780 billion won (US$668 million). Hyundai Asan secured a 50-year right to develop the tours after paying the North US$500 million before the tours started in 1998. All transport costs and other charges for using these facilities went to Hyundai Asan and its South Korean suppliers, Shin said. Regardless of whether the cash earnings for the North were significant or not, the resumption of the tours is highly important as a symbol for inter-Korean cooperation and exchange, said Professor Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “However, I am rather sceptical whether the US accepts Seoul’s request in light of Washington’s long-held stance that there must not be any laxity in implementing sanctions against the North,” he said. Ongoing efforts by the US to reach an agreement with North Korea over its nuclear and missile programmes appear stalled, with Pyongyang on Tuesday rejecting Sweden’s proposal to mediate a dialogue next month. Earlier this week, South Korea and the United States decided to shelve a joint air force drill as an incentive for the North, but Pyongyang dismissed the gesture. Yang said Pyongyang was merely “posturing” to gain an upper hand in possible upcoming negotiations .