Unabashed by international sanctions and threats of pre-emptive attack by the United States, North Korea is calling for foreign businesses to invest in a bold and unlikely new venture: a 30,000-tonne floating casino with capacity for 1,000 gamblers.
The invitation is on the website for the Mount Kumgang tourist region, an area of natural beauty and site of a now suspended tourist resort formerly run with South Korea.
The “investment guidelines” on the Korean language site — tour-kumgangsan.com — explain that in return for an investment of $10 million to $20 million the successful foreign company or consortium would be entitled to operate a tourist ship for ten years. Two routes are proposed: one between the port of Kosong, close to the Kumgang, or Diamond, mountains, and the Russian port of Vladivostok; the other to southeast Asia.
“By using the cruise ship we will diversify international tourism from Mount Kumgang, a world-famous mountain,” the prospectus says. “The passenger ship will be equipped with various facilities to allow about a thousand tourists to enjoy safe cultural travel by sea.
“There are plans to allow a casino business to be operated. The tour ship will be guaranteed favourable conditions for economic activities in line with the law on Mount Kumgang, a special international tourism zone.”
The Mount Kumgang tourist resort was established in 1998 as part of South Korea’s “Sunshine Policy” of outreach to, and engagement with, the North. For years a subsidiary of the massive Hyundai conglomerate operated tours there for South Koreans curious to visit the North. It abandoned it a decade later after a South Korean housewife was shot dead by a North Korean soldier after unintentionally wandering off limits.
Foreign businesses have experienced mixed fortunes in North Korea. The glass manufacturer Pilkington has never been paid for providing windows to a still-unfinished hotel in Pyongyang.
The Egyptian company Orascom said last year that it had effectively lost control of Koryolink, the North’s first mobile phone carrier, and written off 3.92 billion Egyptian pounds (£173 million) because it was unable to take its earnings out of the country.
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